First Meeting with Covenant House

After spending the last three years immersed in the Heart Gallery project and learning about foster care and adoption, I realized today how little I actually know about what happens to kids who “age out” or those children who reach 18 years old and choose to sign papers giving up services from dyfs and releasing themselves from dyfs care.

The focus is constantly on helping youth get adopted prior to their 18th birthday and not on those who “age out”.

The big question is, what actually happens to these kids when they “age out”? What resources are available to them? Are they kicked out of their foster homes on their 18th birthday? How do they support themselves? The questions never seems to end.

One of the startling things I learned today is that Covenant House Newark, NJ, a haven for homeless kids between 18 and 22 years old, often get phone calls from dyfs case workers asking to “drop off” these kids. Covenant House won’t accept a child directly from dyfs, it has to be the child who makes the choice to come to Covenant House, change their life path and follow the rules of Covenant House including saving 90% of their income and learning basic life lessons. What often happens is that the worker drops off the child a block from Covenant House and tells the child to walk in on their own. (This according to Covenant House officials).

The other shocking thing I learned today is that there is some sort of legal form these kids sign to release dyfs of their obligation to offer services to the kids until they turn twenty-one. After years and years in foster care, many of the kids jump at the chance to leave their foster or group home and start life on their own. In that zeal, they don’t realize that by signing this release, what it actually does is hurt them. They lose services that is due to them. Officials told me that many workers come in with the form to be signed without explaining to the kids that they will lose those services and several times Covenant House employees have stepped in to tell the kids of their rights.

It seems that dyfs wants to get these kids “off their books” and by signing that release, their cases are closed. No matter that most often it is to the child’s detriment. This is stunning to me. Isn’t there a law that forces dyfs to reveal that the children will lose all services by signing off on this release?

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