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Entering Adulthood a Lonely Road for Hundreds of Ohio Youth

October 11, 2010

COLUMBUS, Ohio - It's a rough road transitioning from teen to young adulthood and foster youth often walk that road alone. Agencies and social workers in Ohio are trying to improve the outcomes for those adolescents. Comments from Antonio Frierson, former foster child, Sanine Cook, independent living social worker with Cuyahoga County Child and Family Services and Romero Smith, former foster child in Cleveland.

Eighteen is the magic age in Ohio's foster care system. That's when most adolescents leave care and learn to live on their own independently. Experts say aging out of care is difficult for these children, who may not have a good support system.

Former foster child Antonio Frierson, Cleveland, says these youth often don't have good role models to help them make good decisions.

"A lot of teens end up homeless within a couple years and also it be hard just transitioning, even having someone to have your back."

Frierson says he is thankful for Sanine Cook, an independent living social worker in Cuyahoga County who helped to put him on the right path. Cook was recently named the 2010 Public Children Services Association of Ohio Child Protection Worker of the Year. She says former foster youth need help to build personal connections in the community.

"We have to learn to think outside the box and let them tell us what they need and help them find their way. I think we're too system-driven, and we don't really help them to make plans that are their plans that will be successful down the line."

Cook has worked on programs and workshops to educate foster youth about the transition, their rights and the resources that are available. She says by tapping into the resources of the community, such as churches and neighborhood co-ops, former foster children might experience even better outcomes.

Former foster child Romero Smith, Cleveland, says the right mentor can help adolescents learn their goals and aspirations. It's especially helpful when the former foster parent fills that role, he adds.

"We need to continue to keep communication between the foster parent and the child and the foster parent and the social worker and just keep that triangle going in the sense of understanding each other."

Twenty-thousand children leave the foster system nationally every year.

Mary Kuhlman, Public News Service - OH