May is Foster Care Awareness Month
May 14, 2012
May is Foster Care Awareness Month
TOPEKA – May is Foster Care Awareness Month in Kansas and across the nation. The Department of Social and Rehabilitation Services this month is spotlighting the needs of the more than 5,000 children in state custody.
Most often, children who have been removed from their home by a judge and placed in foster care by SRS are vulnerable and disadvantaged. They may have experienced abuse, neglect or other traumatizing situations. They need a loving, attentive foster family that will help them make a fresh start.
“Being a foster parent is a life-changing experience,” said SRS Secretary Phyllis Gilmore. “It’s a unique opportunity to forever change the direction of a child’s life and impact who they become as adults.”
Lucy Castillo, from Emporia, experienced the life-changing impact of a foster parent firsthand. A judge pulled her from her home when neglect by her mother and truancy from school combined to put Lucy in difficult circumstances. She was placed with a foster parent, Stella. In Stella’s home, Lucy found new motivation to complete school and pursue her dream of becoming a chef. Her foster mom and other adults in her support network encouraged her as she tried various avenues to complete her high school degree, including alternative school, online education, and finally through a GED.
“I knew that I wanted to be in the kitchen, to be a chef, and I knew I couldn’t do it without that piece of paper. I knew had to accomplish that goal to get to bigger goals,” Lucy said.
She is now enrolled in the Culinary Arts program at Flint Hills Technical School. In addition, she was recently recognized nationally as one of the top 100 Outstanding Youth Leaders for her work in the Kansas Youth Advisory Council, a leadership and advocacy organization made up exclusively of Kansas youth have been in the foster care system.
Lucy’s KYAC advisor, Vicki Richardson, nominated her for the prestigious award.
“She’s always involved in activities and travels all over the state to talk to foster parents, judges, workers,” Richardson said. “She’s quick to volunteer, doesn’t like limelight and doesn’t necessarily need recognition.”
The Kansas Youth Advisory Council (KYAC) has long advocated for the rights and needs of foster children. Because the council is made up of foster children and alumni of the foster care network, they have a unique perspective on the challenges faced by children in state care.
During the 2011 legislative session, their work to equalize high school graduation credit requirements for youth in state care was signed into law. Now, a child who has ever been in the foster care network after age 14 will only be required to attain the minimum number of credits set by the Kansas Board of Regents in order to graduate. This is beneficial for foster youth because the instability of their situations may cause them to transfer to a school with higher graduation requirements than their previous just before they are supposed to graduate.
Lucy is currently an alumni and past historian of the KYAC. She said her involvement, which included drafting a foster care bill of rights, helping other youth develop independent living skills, producing a transition guide and working with foster parents, motivated her to continue moving through life on a good, productive path.
“Being in the KYAC and being seen as a leader makes me want to keep going in a positive direction,” Lucy said.
Currently, Lucy is working to promote “Band Together Day,” which is on the second Friday of May every year. On May 11, foster youth, providers and supporters will wear blue wristbands to show their support of youth in state care.
“We want to encourage people to be a positive influence in someone’s life,” Lucy said.
Currently, there are 5,119 children in the custody of SRS and in out-of-home placement.
To find out more about becoming a foster parent or mentor, call SRS at 1-877-345-6787.