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Ohio Foster Kids are Rising Up, Giving Back

October 25, 2011

COLUMBUS, Ohio - Despite the trauma and challenging family dynamics they may have experienced growing up, many young people in Ohio have transitioned out of foster care to lead successful lives and become role models for others.
Dauntea Sledge of Columbus, who was in and out of care for more than a decade, now works on the local and national level educating others about the child welfare system.

Sledge says a love of comic book heroes helped save him, and now he wants to help others.

"It took me out of the world I was actually in and put me in another one, that kind of helped me cope. And it gave me morals, like Superman: 'I'm going to save everybody.' So, it instilled values in me that I wasn't getting at home, or even in my foster homes."

Sledge has received national recognition as one of a handful of 2011 Foster Club All-Stars.

A family history of substance abuse led Julia Burns of Brookfield into the foster care system at age 14. She now fosters her own brother and provides the same support she says caseworkers and foster parents gave her.

"Any time I needed them, day or night, they were there for me. Any time I felt down or unloved or got discouraged, they were always there to push me ahead. And if it wasn't for foster parents and caseworkers, I probably wouldn't be where I'm at today."

Burns recently received the Public Children Services Association of Ohio's 2011 "Rising Up and Moving On" award.

Sledge says the child welfare system is doing good things, but more can always be done to help those in care. As a product of that system, he says, he can provide a perspective that others can't.

"A lot of people don't understand what foster youth go through, so they can't speak on it and they can't really target the problem. You have to bring all perspectives to the table, so the more people that advocate, the better."

Burns says foster parents are in a unique position to influence a child's life. Her advice for them?

"Teach them right and just show them love and affection, because a lot of kids come into foster care feeling neglected. Make them feel like a part of your home, and make them just feel wanted."

Each year in Ohio, more than 1,000 teens age out of foster care as they turn 18. To help improve their chances for education and self-sufficiency, Ohio lawmakers have approved $2 million in Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) funding.

Mary Kuhlman, Public News Service - OH