Foster youths learn life lessons at Teen Forum 2006


High school students from all over California arrived by van and bus to spend the weekend at the CSUN University Park Apartments for what they hoped would be a motivational experience at the Teen Forum 2006.

Most of the students, whose ages ranged between 16 to 18, have been in foster care system for many years.

Clare Davis, residential housing manager, said the university was excited to host the June 23 forum for the first time.

“Many of these students were not adoptable because they were to old for traditional parents or ties to their birth parents,” Davis said. “We hope they gain encouragement.”

The forum, which is sponsored by the California Department of Social Services, is an annual event that prepares students in foster care to exit the system and adjust to college and independent living. Students network with other young people who endured a similar transition process throughout the event.

George Duvall, host speaker of the event, said the students arrive at the event not knowing what to expect. He said after the students engage in workshops, however, their attitudes change.

“I was once in foster care and know that these youths benefit from seeing other people who have stories,” Duvall said. “They feel loneliness when they leave the system and face difficult changes.”

Former foster care students, who were interns in a program called FosterClub All-Stars, put on the event’s workshops.

“We are a support group for the foster care youths, ” said Katie Yother, of Montana. “When they realize we have the same background, they get confidence.”

Yother was permanently placed in foster care at 7 years old due to family abuse and neglect. She is now a senior at Montana State University studying political science.

The FosterClub All-Stars are made up of 14 former foster youths that are selected from across the country to be a part of the summer internship program. They participate in conferences and events in at least 15 different locations across the United States.

The different workshop sessions held at the event included Foster Youth Rights and Options to Anger. A Parenting Talk Show that included testimonies from young women who became pregnant prior to their emancipation also was held.

Other workshops at the event were Writing Art and Media: different ways to start your own magazine; a Website and television show; Getting Solid: learning to find permanency in life; It’s T-Time: a tool kit for leaving foster care; Job Corps and Conversation Corps – a workshop on California-based programs.

Vebra Switzer, California Department of Social Services representative and Teen Forum organizer, said foster care youths are not aware of all the financial help they can receive.

“We have state programs and scholarships just for foster care such as Chafee,” Switzer said.

The Chafee Foster Care Independence Program provides federal funding for states to support young people in foster care, who make the transition to adulthood through independent living programs and services. The Foster Care Independence Act of 1999 (FCIA) authorized the Chafee Program.

Once the foster youths arrived at the event, registered and received their dorm keys, they went to the Satellite Student Union’s dinning commons for dinner. Following dinner was the welcoming orientation in the Shoshone Room.

Duvall stepped up to the microphone on stage in front of all the foster youths and asked, “What counties are represented here today.”

The students jumped up and down in their seats as they yelled out the cities they reside at.

All 54 counties were represented with about 200 youths in attendance. Switzer said this year’s turn out was successful because more time was allotted to prepare.

Duvall entertained the teens, joking about visiting Los Angeles, wondering why there is a Starbucks on every corner.

He also told the audience about being raised in foster care and becoming a successful adult.

“You can never say you’ve never seen someone make it,” Duvall said.

Justin, a 17-year-old foster student, said programs like Teen Forum keep him off the streets. He said he believes he has the same chances as everyone else.

“I plan on going to a community college first, then transferring to San Diego State University,” Justin said.

He said the only disadvantage he encounters as a foster care youth is that he cannot drive until he is 18 years old and that friends must undergo background checks before a sleep-over or vacation.

Students were split up into different groups and were asked to come up with a team name and create a shield of arms for the group on a poster board. The students wrote their goals inside the shield, then wrote what they wish to avoid outside the shield.

Each shield was similar with family, happiness, love and pride as positive things to have in life. Hate, racism, violence and alcohol all came up outside the shield, meaning negative influences in life. Every group went on the stage to introduce themselves and their shields.

Other activities the teens participated in during the weekend were campus tours, a talent show, fashion show, barbeque and a comedy and magic show.

The orientation ended with Joscelynn Carbonell, the event’s keynote speaker.

The 21-year-old former foster care youth from Santa Maria showed the audience a powerpoint presentation about her life.

At 7 years old, she said she remembered that her mom did not want her. By eight, she was in the foster care system. She told the audience that nothing could hold her back from being successful.

She asked the audience, “Y’all wanna get out of the system right?”

Nearly every youth got up from their seat and clapped. The student’s faces grew with wide smiles as they cheered Carbonell.