Hope for teens aging out of foster care

By Todd Cohen

RALEIGH, N.C. — Adulthood can be tough for young people after they leave foster care.

Most children and teens enter foster care as a result of abuse or neglect by their biological families. They often are moved from one foster family to another, and often are disappointed by the adults in their lives and not prepared to live on their own.

That kind of childhood can take its toll: More than one in five of the 20,000 young people in the U.S. who age out of foster care each year at age 18 will become homeless, and only 58 percent will graduate from high school by age 19.

Working to prepare foster kids in Wake County for adulthood is The Hope Center at Pullen.

Formed in 2009, the nonprofit this year is serving over 100 young people ages 13 to 24, up from only 12 young people it served three years ago.

Typically referred by Wake County Child Protective Services, or by homeless shelters, those young people work with The Hope Center case workers and partner agencies to develop an individual plan that includes goals in the areas of housing, education, employment, financial management, physical and mental health, and creating a support network.

The idea is to serve as a one-stop shop that will provide young people aging out of foster care with a map they can use — and the resources and support they will need — to make a seamless transition to living on their own as adults.

Operating with an annual budget of $367,000, up from $140,000 two years ago, a staff of four people working full-time and two working part-time, and 50 active volunteers, The Hope Center partners with seven agencies that provide a broad range of support to it, the young people it serves, and its volunteer mentors who work with those young people.

Young people have the option of working not only with volunteer mentors, but also with volunteer tutors. Volunteers also provide clients of The Hope Center with transportation to paid positions the agency helps arrange for them at local nonprofits.

“We’re trying to build a support system, someone positive in their life,” says Stacy Bluth, executive director at The Hope Center.

Formed in 2009, The Hope Center grew out of Backdoor Ministries, a program of Pullen Memorial Baptist Church in Raleigh that provides brown-bag lunches twice a week to people who are homeless.

Initially serving chronically-homeless adults, The Hope Center in 2012 shifted its focus to providing resources and support to young people aging out of foster care.

In Wake County, where roughly 300 young people ages 13 to 18 are in foster care, 30 to 40 age out of it each year.

In 2014, The Hope Center served just over 100 young people ages 13 to 25, and worked most intensively with roughly 50 ages 18 to 25. Among that smaller group, it helped 75 percent find and keep stable housing, and helped 45 percent secure jobs. It helped 10 percent enroll in a general educational development, or GED, program, and 42 percent enroll in post-secondary education. And it helped 25 percent increase their income.

The Hope Center generates funds from United Way of the Greater Triangle, the City of Raleigh, Wake County, individual donors, foundations and special events.

It netted $30,000 at its annual Hope Gala in May, and aims to raise $20,000 at its annual Cycle for Hope bike event in October, up from $15,000 last year.

And with a grant of $123,000 from United Way, The Hope Center is teaming with six other agencies to provide support for people who have aged out of foster care and now are parents. Children of parents who were in foster care are five times as likely than other parents to end up in foster care themselves.

The Hope Center also is launching a strategic planning effort to map its own future, and possibly create a model for other communities.

“We are committed to serving as many young people in Wake County who need us,” Bluth says, “and developing a model of programs and services that meet all their needs.”

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