Monday, November 23, 2009

NATIONAL ADOPTION MONTH: Aging Out with Music in the Background

 As a former social worker and now adoptive parent the issue of adoption for children in the United States foster care system are dear to my heart. For those who have never met me, adoption is a part of my family. It never occurred to me that I would not adopt, at some point and when I had the opportunity I did. Never did I think about the specific age of the child, but simply my desire to be a parent and provide a loving family for a child.

Working in the field of social work, specifically in child protective services, you see many things. Yes, you see children who are sexually abused by adults and other children. Yes, you will see children who are neglected educationally and emotionally. Yes, you will see children physically abused in ways the majority of society do not believe exist or does not want to think about. It would be asolutely foreign for the average adult working a 9-5 middle clas job to consider the conditions under which many childen live. When they are removed from the environments, it becomes the job of the State to provide for that child. And at the time the parents are deemed unfit, the State now becomes the "parent" and, in fact, needs to prove itself fit.

 Unfortunately, the State, often fails these children. How? In an average home, at the point a child turns eighteen they have many basic skills: washing clothes, handling money, group interaction, maybe some job skills, and basic education. Not so for many children "aging out" of State care. They have been bounced around from home to home, maybe even institution to institution, and made the victim on many cases. When they turn eighteen, the road to normalcy has long sense been covered over with a trail of homes, social workers, failed grades, and broken relationships. Yet, the State says they are prepared to be adults and make in "the World". It is my contention that they are not prepared and the State is not doing a good job of preparing their own children for the World. Here some facts:

  • According to the most current AFCARS Report (Adoption and Foster Care Analysis and Reporting System Report), 19,509 children aged out of foster care during FY 2002 in the United States.
  • Young adults who stayed in care after 18 were more than twice as likely to be enrolled in a school or training program as those who had been discharged (67% vs. 31%).
  • Young adults who stayed in care after 18, who had a high school diploma or GED, were over three times as likely as those no longer in care to be enrolled in a 2- or 4-year college. (37% vs. 12%).
  • Compared to the 19 year olds still in foster care, those who left the system were more likely to have become pregnant.73
  • A study conducted with 216 emancipated foster youth attending a four-year university found that social support was an important factor in their educational success: nearly 87% had either a friend or family member to ask for help or advice if needed, 80% had contact with their birth family, and 60% still maintained relationships with their foster or kin-care parents.74
With all of the issues involved with teens, concerns about them fitting in, and even behavioral issues they are worthy of homes, families full of love, and committed to providing them with stability not just for a few months, but for life. If you are interested in adoption, please contact your local social services agency through National Child Welfare Gateway. If you are interested in facts about children in foster and out-of-home care, you may read at National Working Group on Foster Care and Education Fact Sheet.
While searching Facebook for groups or pages which address "aging out" I ran into an interesting musical. A musical about "aging out"? It is more than some silly view, but bring the feeling of a teen in care to the forefront with elegance, humor, and a candidness that I have never seen. It highlights the issues with which I have already spoken, but from the view of teens and young adults preparing to be emancipated or "aging out".

AGING OUT is a new rock musical that tells the stories of “the ones nobody wanted” - 18 year olds who are aging out of the foster care system into independent, adult life in one giant, scary leap - unlike “normal” teenagers who get to enter adulthood with baby steps and family supporting them on the way.

We meet 13 of these teenagers as they meet each other, in a one-day “Independent Living Program” class taught by a social worker who starts out trying to teach them the “basics” of checkbooks and resumes but constantly discovers more in her students than she bargained for. 

AGING OUT (book and lyrics by Tara Redepenning and Hillary Rollins, music by Darin Goulet) was developed in 2009 by UC Irvine in conjunction with the Academy for New Musical Theatre (ANMT). The UCI cast just recorded the AGING OUT cast album, which you can listen to right here (and also on Facebook).

Coming soon: video clips from the September 2009 staged reading of the show at UCI.

We also welcome your comments and questions! If you’d like to be on our mailing list, send us an email that says so, on the comments and questions page. Or become a Fan of AGING OUT on Facebook.

If you are a producer, theatre or producing organization interested in supporting the development of AGING OUT, please contact us about opportunities to become involved.