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Beyond The Foster Care System

The Future for Teens

Betsy Krebs

Publication Year: 2006

Each year tens of thousands of teenagers are released from the foster care system in the United States without high school degrees or strong family relationships. Two to four years after discharge, half of these young people still do not have either a high school diploma or equivalency degree, and fewer than ten percent enter college. Nearly a third end up on public assistance within fifteen months, and eventually more than a third will be arrested or convicted of a crime.

In this richly detailed and often surprising exploration of the foster care system, Betsy Krebs and Paul Pitcoff argue that the existing structure sets kids up to fail by inadequately preparing them for adult life. Foster care programs traditionally emphasize goals of reuniting children with family or placing children into adoptive homes. But neither of these outcomes is likely for adolescents. Krebs and Pitcoff contend that the primary goal of foster care for teenagers should be rigorous preparation for a fully productive adult life and that the standard life skills curriculum is woefully inadequate for this purpose.

The authors, who together cofounded the Youth Advocacy Center in New York City, draw on their fifteen years of experience working with teens and the foster care system to introduce new ways to teach teens to be responsible for themselves and to identify and develop their potential. They also explore what sorts of resources-legal, financial, and human-will need to come from inside and outside the system to more fully humanize the practice of foster care. Ultimately, Krebs and Pitcoff argue that change must involve the participation of caring communities of volunteers who want to see disadvantaged youth succeed as well as developing methods to empower teens to take control of their lives.

Bringing together a series of inspiring, real-life accounts, Beyond the Foster Care System introduces readers to a number of dynamic young people who have participated in the Youth Advocacy Center's programs and who have gone on to apply these lessons to other areas of life. Their stories demonstrate that more successful alternatives to the standard way of providing foster care are not only imaginable, but possible. With the practical improvements Krebs and Pitcoff outline, teens can learn the skills of effective self-advocacy, become better prepared for the transition to full independence, and avoid becoming the statistics that foster care has so often produced in the past.

Published by: Rutgers University Press


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pp. v-6

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pp. vii-viii

Many of the ideas, analysis, and recommendations in this book derive from our work and relationships with youth in foster care. Their passion to become successful contributing citizens and to improve the foster care system was our motivation for writing Beyond the Foster Care System. If we have made any...

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pp. ix-xxii

Selina rushed from her last college class of the day to arrive on time. Hurrying down the block, she noticed Gloria, a young woman standing on the sidewalk outside the imposing law school building. Gloria looked uncertainly at the main entrance doorway, unsure if she belonged there....

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Chapter 1: First Impressions of the Foster Care System

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pp. 1-26

To get into foster care, you have to pass through family court. To get into family court, you have to wait on a long line to go through metal detectors. The court officers proudly show off garbage cans filled with weapons, guns, knives, brass knuckles, and weapons discovered on clients attempting to enter...

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Chapter 2: Education for Foster Care Teens

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pp. 27-50

When we were lawyers in family court we were supposed to help our teen clients with their placement issues—that is, finding a place for them to live. But often we met teenagers who, when asked how it was going, complained about their education or lack thereof. This surprised us at first. Our prejudice was...

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Chapter 3: Teaching Teens Rights

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pp. 51-78

Most teens in foster care are intently focused on their rights. This makes sense because they live in a government system that has countless mandates and regulations. In an effort to protect children, control behavior, and assure compliance by staff and clients, the government’s child welfare bureaucracies...

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Chapter 4: Policy Advocacy with Teens

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pp. 79-107

Teens seemed to encounter so many immediate problems that were endemic to the system. Even with our growing interest in preparing teens for their future, we felt compelled to make life more manageable for teens while in care. But the system wasn’t going to change because we were teaching foster...

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Chapter 5: Preparing for Independent Living

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pp. 108-129

Through working with teens like Carlos, Jenny, Xaranda, and others, we began to see that the system’s greatest failure was not that it sometimes mistreated teens, but that it failed to prepare teens for either college or employment. The system consistently failed to provide teens with meaningful skills to...

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Chapter 6: Creating the Getting Beyond the System® Self-Advocacy Seminars

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pp. 130-159

We had traveled many paths in the foster care system, engaged in many problems faced by teens, and considered a range of solutions. During this time we had observed many worthwhile program efforts fail. We believed that the combination of our work, in both policy and programming areas, positioned us to develop...

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Chapter 7: Informational Interviews: A Bridge from Foster Care to the Community

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pp. 160-182

Understanding self-advocacy requires action. Teaching only rules and theory would inadequately prepare teens to learn how to apply self-advocacy in obtaining their individual goals. We were committed to integrating into the curriculum a way for teens to practice their skills in an authentic setting, not just through role plays in the classroom. Early on, we...

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Chapter 8: System Resistance to Empowering Teens

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pp. 183-216

We had been running the Getting Beyond the System® Self-Advocacy Seminar classes for teens at our office for two years. We enrolled a few students from a number of different agencies in New York City to form a class. Usually the students were encouraged to attend our seminar by independent living specialists...

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pp. 217-227

Our journey with youth in foster care led us to conclude that foster care for teens should have different goals, strategies, and structures than foster care for younger children. Adolescents in foster care have needs and priorities different from small children. In addition to safety and efforts at family...


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pp. 229-230


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pp. 231-238

About the Authors

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pp. 239-263

E-ISBN-13: 9780813540153
E-ISBN-10: 0813540151
Print-ISBN-13: 9780813538280

Page Count: 264
Publication Year: 2006