Forum Focuses on Challenges for Youth In State Care

Jan 17, 2014

Jaquan Harris of the DCF Youth Advisory Panel.
Credit CT-N
Selena Perez of the DCF Youth Advisory Panel.
Credit CT-N

Connecticut Voices for Children held a forum on Thursday called, "Raising the Grade: Improving Educational Opportunities for Youth in State Care." State lawmakers, child advocates, and community leaders gathered at the capitol to hear sometimes emotional testimony from members of the DCF Youth advisory panel, teenagers who have been in the care of the state for most of their lives.

"After you go into care, it seems as if nobody cares at all."
Jaquan Harris

The academic chips are stacked against children who have been placed in the care of the state Department of Children and Families. For one, the trauma of being separated from their families, and from their school, friends, and teachers often sends these children into a tailspin, and learning takes a back seat. That was the case for Jaquan Harris, 16. "Whenever I had the opportunity to do the right thing," he said, "I always chose the wrong thing, out of spite and just for pure attention. After you go into care, it seems as if nobody cares at all. So I saw school as my stage."

Another issue is that children in state care often bounce back and forth between foster homes and group homes, and have no choice but to change schools multiple times. Starting over again in a new school and setting further puts these children at risk of falling further behind.

For 19-year-old Selena Perez, moving from Manchester to Tolland meant a loss of course credits. "The Tolland High School credits were higher than Manchester," she said. "I didn't have enough to even be considered a senior. I was devastated. I was like no, I am so close!"

Perez said she finally got the course credit problem solved with help from her surrogate parent in Tolland, and she eventually graduated with high honors from Tolland High School.

When asked how they would change the child welfare system, the answer from the DCF Youth Advisory Panel was simple: "We need someone who's going to be there for us 24/7," said Sanjee Pauling, 20.

Harris said, "We need somebody who we think is a nice person, who we can talk to, who we can share our dreams with. DCF children are not the most connected people."

Perez said, "We need a permanent surrogate parent, so that when the child unfortunately does have to go to 5 different schools, at least they still have that one person who's never changing."

Watch CT-N's footage of the meeting below: