How I Survived Aging Out of Foster Care
I have heard of expressions such as "like the architectural grandeur of Italy," "the titillating romance of Paris" and "the snazzy razmatazz of Las Vegas", so I figure it can't be coincidental that a simile such as "like the splendor and grandiosity of Los Angeles, California" had never, in the entirety of human language, to my knowledge, ever been produced, (except, perhaps, by me, during a drunken stupor) but I have heard even less nice things being said about, and to, those who are not only native-born residents of this particular city, but also transitioning out of foster care at the same time.
At one point in my life, I could qualify for falling under the category of both, which was a stigma I bore during the most formative years of my adult life (ages 18-25). My buddy Weiner (actual names changed to prevent receiving too much of a butt-whooping later) and I had spent a significant portion of our teen years in youth care facilities throughout Southern California.
In the group home where we met, (him in the boys' section and me in the girls'), Weiner and I hung out mainly because I felt I didn't really fit in with the other girls, who mostly wanted to do stuff like polish their nails, gossip, trash-talk, gush over the cutest boys, and plot about which fellow resident they would throw the next "blanket party" for, (more on that later). I felt it was a lot more fun to actually hang out with said boys and participate first-hand in the things they liked, such as basketball, skateboarding, kick-boxing, video gaming, and hitting the on-site weight room (in retrospect, Weiner actually looked pretty hot while lifting dumbbells shirtless), or, to have contests over who could effect the best Homer Simpson impersonation, and etc. I even cut my hair short and dressed like the dudes to further fit in with them.
Weiner didn't mind my weirdness, and, as such, my rebellious ways made it fun for both of us to seek out some cool male-oriented positions in the job market.
"We are being kicked out on the street with nowhere to go," I shouted, the last time we spoke with our respective social workers.
"I know, right?" Weiner said. We goggled at each other in flabbergasted surprise, then both broke into huge grins, and slapped high fives at each other.
"Woo-hoooo! We're free!" we chimed in unison.
"So what do ya wanna do first?" Weiner asked.
"Well," I suggested, "being that we are now about as broke as the 10 commandments, I would like to seek out a position with a telemarketing firm, because telemarketing is one of those jobs that don't require experience, and where you get hired on the spot, and then, after that, I would like to catch your priest daddy alone at his church to get him to show off his 'organ skills' if ya catch my drift," I said in my most sensual naughty phone talk line voice.
"Cool," Weiner said. "And then after we get our first pay check, I would like to celebrate by inviting your mother to a drink at a local bar, where I can engage her in a game of pool, to see how good she is with balls and extremellllly long cues, especially mine's." He exaggerated a series of sexy winks. "So yes, I can see where this would all fit in."
We eventually got hired at a telemarketing company in the area, which both of us liked because it served as a more effective sleep aid than a church sermon, and then one day, when we failed to meet our required quotas by a certain hour, our boss pleasantly kicked us out, telling us to return the next day looking and acting more bright-eyed and bushy-tailed.
"Nuts, what a shame he didn't fire us," I said as we skipped along from our job, rejoicing to have escaped.
"But what are we gonna do to cure our insomnia now?" Weiner asked.
"Hmmm...maybe we could seek out a provider of temporary manual labor to the industrial and warehouse business markets that pay on a 'work today, cash today' basis. Their positions are guaranteed to provide us the epitome of back-breaking drudgery and mind-numbing ennui."
Much to our disappointment, we located a fast-growing staffing company that supplied temporary manual laborers to construction positions that kept us even more hyperactive than usual. I personally didn't expect to enjoy the rush of operating a jackhammer so much, (no dirty innuendoes intended here, this time anyway). It was the reason we pleaded with the facilitator to connect us with the most boring positions he could find; he advised us that their positions were not always guaranteed and that they were only available on a first come, first serve basis, but he suggested that our work day might have a sedative enough of an effect on our performances if we used our imaginations.
After sitting in the office lobby playing cards and dominoes for literal hours with our stomachs rumbling and our pockets empty, we realized we were in no position to be picky, and that it would be best to take whatever we could get; so when we were finally assigned to perform small repairs at an office in a local factory, we tried to make the best of it.
When we arrived at the work site, I told our supervisor for the day, "I think a nice huge caulk will fill this crack."
"Sure, go see if it works," he said, preoccupied, as he left to tend to the other workers.
"Do you have enough caulking in your caulk?" I asked Weiner, out of earshot of the supe.
"I dunno. I think my caulk is half-empty."
"Well, maybe I should give your caulk a good squeeze then."
"You wanna squeeze on my caulk?"
"Yeah, I wanna squeeze on your caulk to see how much caulking is in your caulk."
"Ok." He handed me the tube of caulk, grinning mischievously. "Here is my caulk. Give it a goooood squeeze."
After I did so, I reeled, absolutely stunned. "Wow Weiner, that's an awfully huge caulk you got there. It's so hard to get anything out...Eeeeeruuuughhhhh!"
"Say, Rosie, there ain't no caulking coming out of my caulk. Why don't you stroke on my caulk with a little more purpose?"
"You mean like this?" I asked, squeezing from the bottom of the tube.
"Ooooo, yeah, that's the stuff, girl."
"I bet. This is an awfully hard caulk though. Your enormous caulk is so hard to squeeze..whew!"
"Well, let me see if I can go about filling your crack with my caulk," he said.
After we spent seemingly forever managing to effectively fill my crack with his caulk, we fell to the floor, exhausted, and yet gratified with a job well done.
"So...what do we do now?" I asked, panting and sweating.
"Uh, maybe we should get a beer and forget this whole thing ever happened."
"Sounds good, but we should still do something about your caulk. Suppose one of the guys here mistakes it for a tube of delicious cake frosting, and puts his mouth on it by mistake?"
"Yeah, I better put my caulk away in a safe place," he said, standing to grab his caulk and carefully hide it away.
"Yeah," I said, standing to yawn and stretch. "Lord knows I've had enough of your caulk for one day."
"Uh, what are you two doing?" the boss man called to us from down the hall, and then we dropped our materials and fled for our lives.
In time, we discovered that we would need to learn some independent living skills that our former placement had not really equipped us with, nor prepared us for. We saw other kids in our situations faring poorly after aging out of the foster care system, and so Weiner and I stuck together for fear out of finding ourselves in their positions.
In many cases, the system released other foster youths with no money, plan, or education so that some felt that the only logical thing to do was to commit crime; you needed proof of address to get an I.D., and an I.D. to get a job.
Weiner and I discovered quickly that the system seemed stacked against people in poverty and designed so you can't make it out. Many other kids we knew ended up jobless, with no one to reach out to; the system appeared to set up a lot of youth who age out of care for failure.
Facing Homelessness as an Emancipating Foster Youth
A statement at finallyfamilyhomes.org reads: "When children placed in foster care reach the maximum age that a state will support them (18-21) without being reunited with family or being placed in a permanent home, it's called aging out. Sometimes it's as cold as having a kid sign paperwork on their 18th birthday and sending them out of a group home onto the streets with a trash bag of their clothing.
"Kids who age out are often sent out of their foster homes without any resources. Most have no supportive adult to help them navigate the challenges of transitioning to independent living...not only this, but without healing, their attempts at success could get sabotaged by the impacts of the trauma they've experienced.
"A young adult who ages out is less likely to graduate high school, attend college, or get a degree," the statement continues. "This also increases the cost to society. According to the Annie E. Casey Foundation, if aged out foster youth had the same outcomes as youth who didn't age out, the U.S. taxpayers would save $4.1 billion."
The site further reports that in a 2013 F.B.I. nationwide raid, 60% of sex trafficking victims came out of foster care or group homes, and states that Michael Dolce of Newsweek.com writes, "Every year, about 4,000 youth age out of care in California. According to Walden Family Services, 65% leave foster care at age 18 with no place to call home. About 1,400 age out in Los Angeles and of those at least 400 become instantly homeless upon aging out."
Determined to avoid becoming another statistic, Weiner and I, through perserverance and word of mouth, came across a few job development programs in the area that were geared towards helping other struggling young adults, many who we were delighted to find were as bored as we were. Without any family members, older mentors, etc., to help or guide us, we found learning to acquire independence as emerging adults just out of foster care a challenge.
Weiner and I hit more temp. agencies and hostels until we found several youth employment programs in Los Angeles and Hollywood where we decided it would be reasonable to assume, for at least a day or two, that we wouldn't get offered drugs, groped, or asked to "work for" someone; we attended free courses for aged out foster youth ages 18-23 in a vocational development agency where we were taught to search for jobs online, create resumes, prepare for job interviews, and locate and maintain housing. We liked our group facilitator Fluffy because he wasn't much older than we were but was so stern and strait-laced that he was like someone twice the age he was.
"Why of all names for a resume addressee did you have to choose 'Mr. Rogers,'" Weiner groaned after Fluffy wrote out a sample resume for us on the chalkboard.
"This is a only an standard example so it is the professionalism of the content and format, not the name, that is important," Fluffy snapped as he handed out paper and pens.
As we didn't have much work experience at the time, Weiner and I weren't able to produce anything profound, but Fluffy told us that even volunteer experience was valid, so we included what we could.
Because this was during the olden days back in the mid-to-late 90's, the requirements for creating a star resume probably differ now than from back then, so below is an updated form. I must apologize that I myself can't seem to come up with a fictional name more imaginative, but I really find this representation most ideal, (source from novoresume.com).
The following video also offers tips on how to write a quality resume for those who have minimal to no work experience.
"Good work, Rosie," Fluffy said after he read my simulated resume. "Just remember to include the contact persons for each organization and any references if possible." He read further and then matter-of-factly added, "You didn't have to write: 'Isn't it a beautiful day in the neighborhood?'"
Seeing that most of his class lacked job experience, and that he was slowly boring us all into a coma, Fluffy decided to break everything down into a more interesting anecdote.
"This is a story about Eugene," Fluffy began. "Eugene is desperate for a job. Any job, because he just got kicked out of his group home on the day he turned 18 with no money to his name and he realized that sitting around playing his Gameboy all day isn't cutting it," he emphasized, glaring at Weiner, who simpered as he put away his Gameboy.
One of the other girls snorted. "Eugene? Couldn't you come up with something more badass? Like Romeo, London, or Walker?"
"So Eugene did what most practical, sensible and rational individuals do," Fluffy continued. "He typed 'How to Find a Job' on Google.
"After getting caught up reading dozens of how-to articles, Q and A posts, and sexually charged fan fics, Eugene gave up, still depressed, still broke. He had no previous work experience, no resume, much less a good one. 'I am an unqualified loser!' he wailed in despair. So what do you think Eugene should do next?"
"Contact his weed provider?" someone suggested.
"He visited some local businesses in person to see what he could do," Fluffy said. "Despite that all odds seemed against him, he remained determined at all costs.
"Finally, he put away his racy magazines and/or videos to enter a grocery store just two doors away where he was greeted by a manager.
"Eugene asked, 'I just noticed your hiring sign and was wondering what work you are looking for.'
"The manager made it explicitly clear that she was looking for people who will work hard, be reliable, flexible, available and will always arrive on time to perform a satisfying and thorough job."
"Not too explicitly, I hope," Weiner said.
"'The thing about that, Ma'am,' Eugene explained, 'is that I don't have previous job experience.'
"The manager frowned and said, 'I tend to be leery of people with no experience. Don't play games with me, kid.'
"What do you think Eugene should do next?"
I shot my hand up. "Ooo, ooo!"
I smiled sweetly. "May I use the restroom please?"
Upon my return, Weiner filled me in on the details about Eugene's adventures; evidently, Eugene had reassured the manager that he was a fast learner, so she gave him a chance to prove himself by giving him a test run. Eugene showed up on his first day of work with a new haircut and smartly dressed. The manager lady instructed Eugene to stock shelves; when he encountered customers, he politely moved out of their way or allowed them to do whatever they needed to before resuming his work.
"One day," Fluffy said, "a customer asked Eugene, 'Do you know where I could find a carton of Donald Duck Orange Juice?'"
"'Or Daisy Duck condoms?'" I muttered.
"Eugene doesn't know if the store is stocked with this particular brand of orange juice or not, nor does he know the store's location for this item," Fluffy said. "So what do you think he should do?"
"Well, he could be honest and tell her he doesn't know but would be more than happy to check," I said, "and then look in the refrigerated section and grab the orange juice and then bring it to the customer if he does find it in stock, and tell her where it is so she will know where to look next time," I said.
"Good idea, Rosie," Fluffy said. "And that's exactly what Eugene did. The customer was so delighted with Eugene's helpfulness that she put in a good word for him with the boss, who agreed to hire Eugene.
"Eugene was elated," Fluffy continued, "then asked his boss later, 'Ma'am, just out of curiosity, why did you give me a chance? I don't have any experience.'
"The boss said, 'Well, Son, you were punctual, diligent, wore a smile, prioritized the customers' needs over the task at hand, and always arrived on time. You were just the type of person we wanted to teach.'"
"Eugene did cartwheels all the way home. So the moral of the story is that it was okay that he didn't know how to get a job, because he was willing to ask what was required, eager to learn, and to go out of his way to prove that he could do it," Fluffy concluded. He looked over to where I sat slumped over my desk with my arms dangling limply over the sides, pretending to have died. "Rosie, I know this is boring to you but I need you to sit up and remain attentive."
Later that week, while we were at work, Weiner and I sat smoking Newports in the pick-up we were driving to transport tools over to one of the construction sites, chanting, "Ahhh...tobacco smoke! Pass me the cigarette so I can take a toke," to the tune of Indo Smoke by Mista Grimm as it blared from the radio, while we reflected on Fluffy's story.
"I have to admit, there was truth to this scenario," Weiner said. "It was cool that Eugene didn't have the skills, because he was honest and willing to work hard to learn. This stupid story could teach us a thing or two about how no matter what job we are trying to land, this Eugene wimp was willing to do whatever it takes."
"Yup, his perseverance paired with his commitment to proving himself paid off," I said, intermittently jamming with him to the song. "And when we look for a new job, it could pay off for us too." I leaned toward the dash board to turn up the volume and sang, "One puff, two puff, three puff, four puff, five, I'm not that hiiigggghhhhh...."
The supervisor looked in through the windows of the pick-up at us, observing me sprawled over the front driver's seats in my lethargic version of a gangster lean, and Weiner, who lay in the back seat with his feet dangling over the open window on the opposite side, both of us making an exaggerated production of our inherent laziness during yet another of our beloved work breaks, as always; rolling his eyes, the boss said, "Why don't you two take the rest of the day off?"
"Wooo-hooooo!" Weiner and I cheered as we both barreled out of the pick-up, racing for a stray shopping cart, in which I pushed Weiner along while running, before bracing myself onto the handle bar as the cart coasted forward, carrying us home.
"Why can't you kids ever pour that same amount of energy into your actual work?" our boss shouted after us.
Resources to Help Foster Youth in Transition
The Covenant House of California provides shelter for youths ages 18-24 who are dealing with homelessness and human trafficking. The web site reads, "Our programs and services are designed to advance youth's physical, emotional, educational, vocational and spiritual well-being in order to provide them with the best chance for success in independence. All our programs and services are free of charge."
I believe it was somewhere in '95 or '96 that I lived in the Covenant House Hollywood location off of the cross streets Fountain and Western. Whoopi Goldberg, one of my favorite actresses, visited us at the site as a guest speaker. Although I was thrilled to see her there I was, of course, too much of a coward to meet and speak with her.
The Covenant House address is 1325 N. Western Ave., Hollywood, CA 90027. The phone number is 323-461-3131. Services are free of charge and are available 24/7.
Another job development program Weiner and I were able to stick with for a while was The Los Angeles Conservation Corps.
"The Los Angeles Conservation Corps is an environmentally focused youth development organization...we provide opportunities for young adults throughout Los Angeles who are out of work and out of school to explore new pathways to meaningful career and educational opportunities while improving the quality of life in Southern California. By offering paid work experience on green community projects, we strive to build resilience in our Corpsmembers and in the neighborhoods they call home...
Young adults between the ages of 18-24 restore habitat, clean alleys, recycle, build parks and community gardens, plant trees, refurbish trails, rescue food waste, build affordable housing, and so much more as a part of our environmentally focused crews."
I recommend you enlist in L.A.C.C. only if you are prepared to perform hours of grueling physical labor. If you are a woman who is expecting or if you have any other serious health conditions, it might be best to check in with a physician for advice before considering recruitment.
The Los Angeles Conservation Corps address is at the John Van de Kamp Center on 1400 N. Spring St., Los Angeles, CA 90012. Their phone number is 213-362-9000 and operating hours are Monday-Friday from 6:30 a.m.-3p.m. and closed on weekends.
I recall My Friend's Place being within walking distance of the Covenant House.; when Weiner first told me about it, I was a little jealous and confused because I had mistakenly literalized what he was saying, thinking he had meant that he wanted me to visit another friend of his, when I had thought I was his best friend. Much to my relief, My Friend's Place was a refuge very similar to the Covenant House, and really not a bad place to hang out, in my memory. My only criticism would be a suggestion in a change of title, in order to prevent other possible hurt feelings.
"My Friend's Place offers comprehensive services to 1,000 homeless youth between the ages of 12-25 and their children, each year, out of our dynamic resource center in Hollywood," the web site states. " The mission of My Friend's Place is to assist and inspire homeless youth to build self-sufficient lives."
My Friend's Place address is on 5850 Hollywood Blvd., Los Angeles, CA 90028. Their business hours are Monday-Friday from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. and they are closed on weekends. Their phone number is 323-908-0011.
Hold On to Hope
In my experience, and based upon my own personal research, women who grew up in abusive homes and/or foster care often end up becoming pregnant/having a child, and then raising their child/children alone before age 21. When I run into online videos that viciously judge, ridicule, victim-blame, reabuse and bully these women, I often find myself becoming triggered, even though I know these videos are usually uploaded by individuals who have no clue, never walked 10 million miles in these girls' shoes, or who can't laid, etc.
Very young adults usually don't know how to do everything on their own and it would be insane to expect so much out of kids who have already had to live really tough lives; I've been there, which might be why I might be amongst few who understand it. Most people who came out of backgrounds like mine don't just pull themselves up by their own bootstraps, they usually need help from others around them.
My mother abandoned me when I was a teen so she could steal thousands of dollars from a monthly paycheck she knew was intended for me. Afterward I was placed in a group home for adolescent girls and liked it there better than at home even though I encountered bullying from amongst both staff and residents, (blanket parties, in which a group of girls rallied together to beat the $%&* out of another girl, but not before throwing a blanket over her, so she wouldn't know who was ambushing her, was a common occurrence). However, I was given food, clothing, and all the other basic necessities that my parents did not provide me. I was cool with the other girls disliking me, being jealous of me, etc., as long as they didn't bother me. Keeping to myself and following all the required regulations was partly what helped me survive.
As soon as I became of age and left the system, I gained legal rights to my check and reclaimed it so that both my mother and stepfather stopped receiving it, and I began receiving my benefits instead. I never spoke to either of my biological parents or anyone else in my dysfunctional family ever since; both of my parents quite viciously and hatefully abused me which is why I was happy to be thrown away by both of them.
Life on your own might be hard, but if it relieves you of toxic people, then just be happy that you at least finally have your freedom. As for the online cowards, I dedicate Mean by Taylor Swift to them.
(P.S., we only loved tobacco when we were young and dumb, we quit smoking long ago due to, you know, cancer risks, yadda yadda.)
This content reflects the personal opinions of the author. It is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and should not be substituted for impartial fact or advice in legal, political, or personal matters.