It’s not your fault, but you spent part of your childhood in the system and now you’ll soon be on your own. What do you do?
On June 21-22, the Michigan Teen Conference will help foster kids who will face that very real future when they “age out.”
The conference, which will be held at Eastern Michigan University, will teach these young people skills that are usually acquired through a nuclear family. These taken-for-granted lessons include transportation, the formation of healthy relationships, and finding work.
Most of us rely on our parents to teach us these skills – not only when we’re kids but as we become young adults. Many foster kids aren’t lucky. With this program they can learn them at workshops at the two-day conference. It’s open to kids aged 14 and up who are in foster care and will help them assume the responsibilities of adulthood prepare them to face the world alone.
It also gives an opportunity for the youth to meet, converse with those in similar situations, and, hopefully, form a support system to help as they move forward.
“This event empowers foster youth to take charge of their lives as they approach adulthood, while building important relationships with caring adults,” says Laura Mitchell, Samaritas executive director of Foster Care Services and an event co-chair. Plus, the friendships and connections they make with peers are vital as they realize they are not alone in their journey.”
Lest you think foster care is not very common, here are some statistics. More than 13,000 Michigan children are in foster care and many face a dire future. Many never return home to biological relatives or are adopted – 25 percent are likely to wind up in jail within two years of leaving the system, according to foster care advocates.
The need for foster families is dire. Samaritas says it has to turn away two-thirds of referrals because there aren’t enough available foster homes.
If you can’t foster a child there are other ways to help. Be a mentor or and host parent and help them learn they have options that can ensure the best possible future, whether its college, trade school or other work. Samaritas can help you connect.
About 170 teens are expected at this year’s conference. Last year there were 150 and the number has grown each year. Many of the kids even return to continue learning, meet old and new friends and hear guest speakers.
One of the speakers this year is Ashley Rhodes-Courter. She spent nearly a decade of her life being bounced around and abused in foster care but she went on to a master’s degree in social work and become a foster and adoptive parent herself.
The other speaker is Mario McClean, a former foster care kid and a 2015 graduate of Michigan State University. The son of drug-addicted parents, he spent five years in foster care before returning to his dad at age 12. Even then there were economic hardships and other obstacles to overcome. Today he is a district sales leader at Frito-Lay. He’ll share his story.
To see and listen to other foster kids who have made a life for themselves may be the best motivation to help the foster kids attending the conference take charge of their journey.