Robert turns 18 in 4 weeks. For most almost-18 year olds, this is a time of joy, celebration, and excited anticipation. Most youth know what college they are attending in the Fall, they have a car waiting for them in the driveway, and a home filled with love and guidance. Unfortunately, Robert is not most youth, he is a growing number of nearly 18-year-olds in our community who will age out of foster care with no family, minimal education or skills, and literally, no where to go.
Robert is a foster youth who has seen too much violence and drug use but hasn’t seen his father in 10 years or his mother in five. He has lived in what is supposed to be a temporary foster care system for eight years, five months and 20 days. Within that time, he has lived in four foster homes, 2 residential group homes and, most recently, a juvenile detention facility. Had had given up hope of every finding a family, but the most troubling fact of all, he had given up on himself and his future.
Recently, he has made decisions that, for most youth, would have been quickly defended and sternly punished by attentive parents. When Robert’s actions involved the local police, there was no father, biological or foster, to defend him, or mother to give him a supportive embrace. Robert, like so many older foster youth who live in group homes, was for the most part, alone. So when Robert found himself in trouble, he faced the consequences of his poor decisions, not with a family to comfort and guide him, but with an overburdened child welfare system that did their best to care for him. Luckily for Robert, he also had a very dedicated CASA advocate, Sharon.
In the first days that Robert spent in the detention facility Sharon was his only visitor. In the months that followed, Sharon continued to visit him regularly – one of the few who did to review his case, make sure he understood what was happening and supporting this almost 18-year-old who had no one else to lean on. It wasn’t easy, for either of them. Robert was angry, Sharon frustrated by the system and often, by Robert too. But regardless of her frustration, Sharon continued to visit, support and understand this young man.
Sharon knew that for so many youth like Robert a juvenile facility isn’t usually the last stop in their journey. Unfortunately, many end up in the adult prison system where they spend the better part of their adult life just learning how to stay alive.
But Sharon saw in Robert the potential, the goodness, the desire to not let his circumstances alter his life forever. And Robert saw in Sharon someone who didn’t give up on him, supported him and had the desire to truly want to help him change his life.
Over the months, the two have developed a trusting friendship, and with time, Robert’s path changed. He started thinking about his future, his education, where he was going to live and how he was going to not just survive, but thrive.
Robert’s full story is not over, and he is sure to have some bumps in the road along the way, he already has, but he is making progress with Sharon close by his side.