Archive for Monday, October 17, 2005

Group homes don’t foster life skills

Many teens leaving foster care not ready to make it on their own

October 17, 2005


For several years now, child advocates have warned that Kansas doesn't do enough to help the young people who leave foster care at age 18 make it on their own.

"We need to be sure we're not just putting these kids out on the street," once they cease to be wards of the state, said Gary Brunk, Kansas Action for Children executive director. "Unfortunately, for some, that seems to be the case."

The advocates' concerns were driven home last week when Jason Rose, a former foster child, was charged with setting the Boardwalk Apartments fire that left three tenants dead.

Rose, 20, is thought to have been in foster care for several years. Before moving to Boardwalk Apartments, he lived in The Villages, a group home for boys in foster care at 1149 East 1200 Road.

"He told me he'd been in foster care since he was 3 years old," said Sandara Meyer, who lived above Rose in the Boardwalk Apartments.

"People were paid to take care of him and tell him what to do," said Meyer, 68. "But is that love? I wonder how long it had been since he'd been told somebody loved him."

Former Boardwalk Apartments resident Sandara Meyer takes a rest from clipping newspaper articles about the fire at the complex and the case of Jason Allen Rose, who faces murder and arson charges. Meyer, who befriended Rose while living at the apartments, says he pulled her out of the burning building. Meyer lost the majority of her belongings in the fire; she is now living with her daughter, Ginnie Ellis, and will soon be moving into a new apartment with her husband, Ronald Belisle.

Former Boardwalk Apartments resident Sandara Meyer takes a rest from clipping newspaper articles about the fire at the complex and the case of Jason Allen Rose, who faces murder and arson charges. Meyer, who befriended Rose while living at the apartments, says he pulled her out of the burning building. Meyer lost the majority of her belongings in the fire; she is now living with her daughter, Ginnie Ellis, and will soon be moving into a new apartment with her husband, Ronald Belisle.

Meyer, who befriended Rose, declined to share what Rose had said about his parents. "Let's just say they were absent," she said. "Leave it at that."

Rose isn't the only former foster-care teen in trouble. In June, Jason Dillon was charged in the beating death of his girlfriend's 3-year-old daughter.

Dillon, 22, had spent 4 1/2 years at O'Connell Youth Ranch before aging out of the foster care system.

"It looks like he went in (foster care) when he was 13," said Dillon's attorney, Mark Manna. "His parents divorced. His father moved out. There were substance-abuse issues. His mother had three kids. She was working and couldn't control him."

Manna did not blame foster care for his client's troubles.

"I cannot say with any degree of certainty that somebody dropped the ball," he said.

"They kept him out of trouble, they kept him sober, they kept him in school and he was working. But once he aged out, he was cut loose. He kept working, but he started using substances again."

Dillon's trial and Rose's preliminary hearing are pending. Both are considered innocent until proven guilty.

Unsuited for real world

Wes Crenshaw, a psychologist with Family Therapy Institute Midwest in Lawrence, said young adults in Rose and Dillon's situation often are not well-suited for life outside the system.

It's significant, he said, that both young men spent much of their growing-up years in group-home settings.

"When you raise a child in an institutionalized setting, you're essentially creating an institutionalized child," Crenshaw said.

"They're not parented," he said, referring to group-home teens in general and not to Rose and Dillon in particular. "They're living in a disciplined structure without any love or the normal trappings of a home. They tend to come out as very alienated, disaffected kids."

Since privatizing most of its child welfare system in 1996, Kansas has curbed its long-standing reliance on group homes.

State records show that in 1996, two-thirds of the children in foster care were in group home-type settings. Today, 11 percent are in group homes.

Generally, group homes are reserved for teens who've not succeeded in family foster-home settings.

Crenshaw praised the shift in policy but warned there's little to prevent teens from leaving foster care with little or no preparation for the harsh realities of living on their own.

"These are kids who want out," Crenshaw said. "They're 18, they think they're ready. But they're not."

Those with disabilities appear to struggle the most.

"If you had good foster parents who'll hang in there with you and if you don't have a disability or mental health issues, you have a decent shot of making it," said Davina Gans, a Lawrence foster parent who maintains contact with about a dozen teens who've aged out of foster care.

"But if you've bounced around and you're dealing with disabilities, well, you're in trouble," Gans said. "You're not going to have the support system you need - the support system everybody needs."

Free to leave

National studies have found that almost one-third of the teens leaving foster care have run-ins with the law, and only about half finish high school. Unemployment is commonplace.

In Kansas, teens in foster care are free to leave the system once they turn 18.

"Sometimes a judge is able to convince them that leaving the system would not be in their best interest," said Sandra Hazlett, director of children and family services at the state Department of Social and Rehabilitation Services.

"But if they're 18 and they want to be released from state custody, the law says 'they shall be released,'" Hazlett said.

With a judge's permission, foster-care teens may remain in the system until they're 21.

Kansas does not keep track of the 18- to 21-year-olds who age out of the system each year.

"We have no means to require them to let us know where they are," Hazlett said. "They would be difficult to track. It would have to be voluntary."

Creating living plans

When foster-care teens turn 16, Hazlett said, their social workers and case managers begin helping them come up with a post-18 "independent living plan."

For those who come up with a plan, aid and services are available:

¢ Up to $400 a month for living expenses.

¢ Tuition waivers at state-funded universities, junior colleges and vocational schools.

¢ Health care coverage.

¢ Help with car repairs.

To be eligible, teens are expected to land a job, save $1,000 and enlist an adult mentor who's willing to keep tabs on them.

Of the roughly 300 foster-care teens who age out of the system each year, about one-third take advantage of the aid and services. Two-thirds do not.

Rose was receiving services. Dillon was not.

Craig Stancliffe, a Lawrence attorney who often represents foster-care teens in court, doesn't blame the foster care system for his clients' troubles.

"There's not enough magic in the system to fix everybody," he said.

Some teens, he said, are reachable and some are not.

"Can you fix a kid who's been traumatized before age 5? Can you fix a kid who comes into the system with demons of his own making?" Stancliffe said. "Is there a 100-percent fix? No, there isn't. Fifty or 75 percent? Maybe."

Some slip through

Daisey DeKnight, 23, entered foster care when she was 13. She stayed until she was 21.

She's a foster-care success story, having graduated from Kansas University last semester with degrees in psychology and sociology.

When DeKnight heard that Rose and Dillon had spent their teen years in group homes, she said she wondered how they'd slipped through the system.

"I know why," she said. "They're foster kids. Nobody pays much attention to foster kids. It's not that (social workers) don't care or that they don't want to, it's because they don't have the time and there's so much turnover."

"When you're a foster kid," she said, "no one really listens."


Eagle_aye 12 years, 6 months ago

Speaking of "Nobody paying attention" Nice picture of the Dillon brothers--the cops do know that Rose changed his name from Dillon--don't they?

concerned_citizen 12 years, 6 months ago

Hey, not all the baby turtles are going to make it to the ocean. That's life. The State took care of Rose from 13 to eighteen. Now the State is going to take care of him again - for many more years, and we get to pay for it all- the social cost of the misery and suffering he caused, and the financial cost of his prison cell.

Not all foster kids turn out bad. MOST foster kids do not turn out bad. Maybe the JW could find some foster kid success stories out there. There are plenty. Give us some good news for a change.

cavtrooper 12 years, 6 months ago

I know two kids, a brother and sister, that are foster care "success" stories. If it were not for the actions of a committed social worker, an alert teacher and the foster care/home system these two may very well have been in deep trouble or dead. The sad fact is that we only notice the system when it fails.

Ragingbear 12 years, 6 months ago

The system usually doesn't work. In other news, the sky is blue.

princess 12 years, 6 months ago


What are you talking about?

Eagle_aye 12 years, 6 months ago

princess--some one who went to HS with him told me on Friday

Eagle_aye 12 years, 6 months ago

Oh also I am referring to the photos on the front page of the paper edition. For some reason they didn't put those photos online.

raven 12 years, 6 months ago

There is no relation between Rose and Dillon.

sillygirl 12 years, 6 months ago

My dear friend Yolanda - not a day has gone by that I've not thought about you or cried tears for you..... As one of your friends and co-workers, I personally know how many lives you touched and how hard you worked to show each family & child your caring heart and attention. You are sadly missed - we will be here to help carry on all of the good deeds you had worked towards. Many people have said and will continue to say terrible things about the foster care system - for those people that say terrible things, I will ask them that one question: what are you doing to help your area youth? God bless you Yolanda - I hope you know you where dearly appreciated and loved by many! I still look at your picture and just can't put reality to this terrible tragedy - I just can't believe you are no longer here - nor will we no longer hear your bubbly voice nor see your beautiful smile.........

Yolanda wanted to do so much more than she had an opportunity to do - I hope that each of you truly do know that not all social workers are overwhelmed and non-caring -- we want to help each and every child -- but we only have so much time in our day and lives. I hope that each of you take time each day to think about 'what am I doing today that will make a difference'. Yolanda you made a difference in someone's life every day of your life - MISS YOU TONS!

raven 12 years, 6 months ago

There is a difference between disliking or standing up against the system and bashing social workers. A good friend of mine is a social worker and I gaurantee you she is always fighting for what is in the best interest of the child. She has children of her own, bills to pay, a mortgage, etc. However, she fights and fights and risks her job to do what is right. The system is one thing--the social workers themselves are another. I think it takes a very special person to go into social work, someone who cares more about others than themselves, someone who has thick skin so when others who obvisouly do not know are trashing them they can hold their heads up high. All social workers have my respect. I pray for the victims of the fire and their families and friends.

Ragingbear 12 years, 6 months ago

Smitty, first of all I have always known that the system(public and private) is flawed on many many aspects. Furthermore, I know that a large amount of people on the streets have been a result of said system in one way or another.

Furthermore, I also know that there is only so much that can be done, due to limited resources and funding. I also know that there are aspects that actually make things worse.

With that being said, I am one of the victims of the fire. Once again, I have seen people hurt because somebody was treated like an object, instead of a human being. This resulted in a heavily skewed perspective on this world, as well as this person's perception of right and wrong. The fact that I say that there are good aspects regarding the impoverished/homeless of Lawrence does not mean that I also think that aspects of the same programs are actually contributing to the problem as well. It's the same all over. But simply eliminating a system is not the answer. Foster programs need to be there, they just need to be completely revamped, and allocated better funding and training. But the core of them is still important to have.

kermit 12 years, 6 months ago

who is so ignorant to say that dillon and rose are related? wow... they have the same FIRST names... but my boyfriend's name is jason... does that mean he is related as well?

lets talk high school drama... yet again.

just because two people out of the 5000000 people named jason are accused of murder does not mean that they are related or that they are going to give us some infectuous disease. jees! if you want to start some drama, go back to high school... where you more than likely dropped out or got kicked out.


sillygirl 12 years, 6 months ago

Pogo - to answer your question YES i often question things and after 10 years of being in social work and working directly with children I am still here fighting and working everyday to make a difference. I have 4 degrees in various fields (accounting, human resources and social worker). Social work is where I am needed - even if it means making 1/2 of what I made 6 years ago. Even politicians run from this subject - until politicians give us our day on the hill and plan to stick with it - our service and funding programs will continue to be cut. Again I ask: are you volunteering or helping out - we could use a good advocate for the system. Each day strive to make it better for someone! I personally am not feeling overwhelmed but there are days when each of us in our jobs are overwhelmed - good time management is a value. Often people who enter this field fiend they can't multi-task and thats when the overwhelmement begins. As well - social workers do need to be thick skinned. So Pogo - how long did you work in the system - are you still there or have you left......I am always open to suggestions about improving performance. Also no ginger snap for me - but I will take sugar cookies!

listener 12 years, 6 months ago


You seem to have a lot of disdain for the system and the social workers that work hard each and every day. I wonder what you think should have been done differently in this situation? As I have read the accounts from people who claimed to know him, all have said that Jason Rose was a wonderful man and all are surprised that he would do something like this. So, assuming that social service workers were meeting with him, what clues do you suppose that they would have seen to indicate to them that he was about to unleash this horrible event on the community?

Some of your comments are on the money, but again, as someone who works proudly in the system each day, I don't appreciate your total generalizations for all of us. My workers routinely question authority as do I with my superiors. I also can't help but wonder what you have done to rise up against this system that you rail against so adamantly. What do you do to change it? Maybe we don't organize to effect radical, sweeping change, but I guarantee you that myself, my workers and I believe Sillygirl effect change on a daily basis for individuals and families one at a time. None of us will tell you that it is enough, but we have to accept that it is the best we can do for now and it is certainly better than nothing. Also, instead of giving total responsibility for the failures of the foster care system to the workers, how about remembering where these kids come from? The parents have the ultimate responsibility. When the system gets the kids, they have already been traumatized. No matter how good the system may be, it can not replace parents. Until all parents take full and appropriate responsibility for their own kids,foster care will be a necessary evil.

Also, as mentioned by others, no one wants to hear about the success stories. If there are any, people like Pogo write them off as they would have been fine without the system, so we get no credit for what goes right, but total responsibility for what goes wrong.

Again, before slamming the hardworking people in the system, think to yourself, what do I do to help? If you can't answer that question in a positive manner, do you really have the right to bash the people that are at least doing something?

kermit 12 years, 6 months ago

what i have a major problem with understanding, eagel_aye, is that you /say mr. rose changed his last name from dillon, but if (by some strange coincidence) he was jason dillon, how could he be in the douglas county jail system /and burning down those apartments? you should seriously rethink exactly what you said, because you are not making any sense to a lot of people. seriously, think hard about what you're saying.


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