18 and Alone

Guest post by Denise Beeman Sasiain, foster mother to Summer, 17, who will stay with her foster family as she enters adulthood; Isabella Hope, 3, who they’ve had since birth and adopted last year; Xavier (aka X-man), 2, who they are in the process of adopting; and Daniella Joy, 1, who they’ve also had from birth and recently adopted.

Denise and Summer

Denise and Summer

Summer, our 17-year-old daughter, had an independent Living planning meeting a month ago. At 17 1/2 years old, we are nearing the six-month mark until she ages out of foster care. So we met with her Independent Living Coordinator to discuss what her plans and options are when she turns 18.

The meeting started out well. Summer is a smart young lady. She will end the school year with mostly A’s and a few B’s. She loves to write and draw, and is majoring in creative writing at the charter arts school that she attends. She is artsy, laid back and fun, with a little bit of quirky thrown in to make her all the more interesting!

During the meeting, we discussed Summer’s strengths and the qualities that she has to be successful. We also discussed her weaknesses and where she was in relation to improving. We discussed her short and long term goals, which are to graduate from high school and then from college. I think both Summer and I felt the meeting was positive, and it was so encouraging for me to hear her discuss and plan for her future.

But then her independent living counselor asked what her plans were in regards to living arrangements after she turns 18. The first answer went off without a hitch, “I am going to stay with Denise and Pierre,” but the coordinator wanted her to come up with a plan B, and even a plan C, “just in case things change.” Both Summer and I insisted that she would continue to live with us. I reiterated the fact that Summer wasn’t going to graduate from high school until she was 19 1/2 and that my husband and I wanted her to stay with us until then, and even through her first years of college. But the IL worker remained adamant that she should come up with some other options.

What made this part of the conversation so difficult was not that the case manager was out of line. She remained positive and encouraging while she stayed resolute that we discuss other living arrangements. Summer answered that she could find an apartment. I answered back that with the money she was going to receive, it was more realistic that she could rent an efficiency. But Summer and I both had difficulty in coming up with an option C. The independent living coordinator informed us of a house in which former foster children each had their own room, but shared bathrooms, kitchens, etc. So that became our option C.

As we discussed these other options, I felt my heart fall down to my feet. It was just sobering and scary for me to think of her going anywhere right after she turns 18 in November. We’ve only had two years to model healthy living, encourage expression of emotions and teaching life lessons. As a mom, I feel that we’ve only had two years to encourage, love and care for her. When Summer and I discussed it afterwards, she said that she felt the same fear.

Summer's beautiful smile!

Summer’s beautiful smile!

Summer came to live with us a little over two years ago. Being the oldest of five siblings, in many ways Summer is mature beyond her years. Before coming into foster care, she had too much responsibility piled on her shoulders in caring for her siblings. She is a loving, caring, respectful and compassionate young lady, whose trials in life have fine tuned her into a sensitive soul. She has integrity, a clear sense of right and wrong, and a desire to help others.

But in other areas, she is behind in regards to developing the work ethic and emotional maturity to ensure her success. She has made tremendous strides in learning new coping skills when under stress. But she still has times when she falls back into old habits and needs someone to help her see it and transition out.

In regards to her consistency in her schoolwork, she’ll do well for several weeks, only to suddenly misstep . She has needed someone to help her regroup and get back at it. We now receive a weekly progress report from her school, informing us of her grades, whether or not there are any missed assignments, and comments from her teachers. This tool has helped us to work on both her consistency of work effort and also her attention to detail in regards to her school work.

Summer has made tremendous strides. I admire the way she has embraced this new phase of her life. She is relentless in wanting to leave behind all the dysfunction that was her prior life, and is resolute in her dreams for her future. She amazes me. But we are all works in progress. She just needs more time to ensure her success. She still needs us in her life.

It is unnerving and literally earth shattering for us to think of her leaving our home when she turns 18. From our standpoint, it is just not a viable option in regards to ensuring not only a successful future, but also a healed and whole heart. In regards to Summer, we are resolute in our commitment to her for the rest of our lives. I dream of her future, and can’t imagine my future without her in it!

But what about so many foster children that don’t have a family to stay with when they age out at 18? On Jan. 1, 2014, Florida foster youth will have the choice to stay in foster care until they are 21.  It will also provide a safety net for the youth, a place to go back to when they need it as they enter adulthood. For those children who are still in high school or those with plans to go off to college, it will raise the likelihood of their success. I am so thankful to Gov. Scott for recently signing the bill into law. I am also thankful Summer will be able to participate in the program. It was the right thing to do.

Every Life converges to some center, expressed or still, and exists in every human nature a goal.

Life is indeed insipid for those who have no great goal in hand.

I don’t claim that I have already arrived or that I am as yet fully mature, but I keep struggling.

                     (Based on the words of Emily Dickinson and Horace Bushnell)

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