Aging Up: Successful Foster Youth Highlight Flaws in Nation's Care Systems
1 month ago
What saves these young people from homelessness?
WASHINGTON -- It’s hard for Sixto Cancel, a lifelong foster kid, to fight the feelings of guilt that will occasionally creep up when he thinks about his life journey.
Last week, the 20-year-old Afro-Hispanic college freshman traveled to the nation’s capital, by invitation of congresswoman Karen Bass (D-Calif.), to attend the presidential inauguration and talk foster care system reform with other lawmakers on Capitol Hill.
Cancel, an outspoken national advocate for foster youth, is one of the 424,000 children and young adults currently in the nation’s foster care systems–or are soon to age out of care upon reaching their 18th birthday–where, after surviving the challenges of foster care, they come face-to-face with the challenges of young adulthood, often made worst by traumatic upbringings.
At the outset, many of these young people don't receive the services and care that would reduce the almost inevitable likelihood of free falling towards unemployment, homelessness and general aimlessness once they have aged out of the system. That's why national advocates and lawmakers are seeking reforms and just the right formula to duplicate Cancel's improbable success.
Connecticut's foster care system supports foster children until age 23. Cancel receives voluntary assistance of $22,000 per year to budget between school and living expenses. He now lives in Richmond, Va., where he attends Virginia Commonwealth University, and supplements his income by working for Rising Tides, a nonprofit that promotes self-sufficiency for aged out foster youth. His 10 brothers and sisters, several of whom are still in Connecticut’s foster care system, are on his mind as he absorbs Washington, D.C. and all of its pre-inauguration pageantry.
During a lunch meeting with former foster care youth and Rep. Bass at a cozy Chinese restaurant, mere blocks away from where he would watch President Barack Obama's historic second inauguration the next morning, Cancel tugged his rimless glasses from his face, placed them on the table and wiped away tears from his eyes.
“I feel like sometimes there is a guilt, there’s a huge guilt, with seeing the work I do and seeing my brothers…” Cancel choked up; not quite finishing his thought.
“It’s survivor’s guilt,” chimed in one of his young colleagues.
Cancel, and fellow foster care survivors Daniesha Tobey-Richards and Elbert Belcher, say the most critical areas of need for foster youth–particularly those who are nearly out of care–are: permanency, normalcy and well-being.