Op-Ed: Those who ‘opt out’ of state care pose a particular challenge for DCF
A recent CT Mirror article (“Report: DCF must do better at tracking kids who ‘age out'”) focuses on a critical issue as the Department continues to advance its reforms. With improvements to the health of the child welfare system under Gov. Malloy’s Administration — 14 percent fewer children in state care, 47 percent fewer children in group or institutional settings, and a greater share of children living with relatives and others they know — comes the challenge to improve outcomes for the teenagers who make up an increasing share of those who remain in the system.
This especially includes improving how we prepare youth to enter adulthood. That preparation involves both helping youth develop their capacity to gain work and careers as well as connecting them to permanent relationships and nurturing connections.
As we tackle this issue, a distinction we need to make is that between youth who “age out” — at age 23 youth are no longer able to continue to participate in the department’s post-secondary education program — and youth who “opt out” — those who unfortunately reject the rules of work, school, and job training and leave state care.
The latter group, those who opt out of available services, poses a particular challenge in how we engage youth in services so as to increase the likelihood that they gain the tools to become successful adults.
The young man who was featured in the article is a great example of the successes. Alixes was one of the approximately 600 youth who attend college each year with the department’s financial and other support.
Alixes Rosado, who did “age out,” graduated from college with a degree in criminal justice and is currently a single dad raising his young daughter, and we are very proud of him.
In addition, we also are very proud of a succession of social workers who at various points connected him with services and places to live, helped him enter and finish college, and even gave him a place to stay for awhile when he turned 18. One of the workers, according to Alixes, is called “Grandma” by his 7-year old daughter.
While the reforms underway at the department are new, the dedication and caring of our staff is not.
Clearly we have to focus on the next generation of youth in our system, and we have a new initiative underway to focus on creating permanent relationships for these youth before they leave state care.
But, as the article points out, we have clear successes among the young people who have been in the system, and we have fantastic people working here at the department who for some time have been instrumental in that success.
Joette Katz is the commissioner of the Connecticut Department of Children and Families.
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