FOSTERING SUCCESS

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Beyond the Foster Care System: The Future for Teens; By Betsy Krebs and Paul Pitcoff; Rutgers University Press; $23.95.

Paul Pitcoff first learned about the New York City foster care system as a law guardian representing children in foster care – articulating a teen’s situation before a judge and presenting evidence in his or her support. Should the teen stay in foster care? Return to a family member’s home? Go to a group home? In some cases Pitcoff would try to prevent separation from a sibling, in others he would advocate the teen receive preparation to live alone. The review for the youth’s fate typically lasted less than five minutes. Most youths above 15 were considered “aged out” of the system and the court usually released them to live on their own. But statistics show that by two to four years after leaving the foster care system, half the teens haven’t earned high school diplomas and nearly a third are on public assistance. Within just one year, almost a third will be arrested or convicted of a crime.

Pitcoff’s experiences led him to co-found the Youth Advocacy Center in 1992 along with family-court lawyer Betsy Krebs. Their new book, “Beyond the Foster Care System: The Future for Teens,” portrays the foster care system through the personal stories of the children, their advocates, lawyers and the authors themselves. Their remedy for the foster system’s flaws is a theory and practice of “self-advocacy” based on principles in law and education. Krebs and Pitcoff argue that in order to succeed, foster teens must not only be psychologically prepared but have practical skills critical for success in the “real world.” They present a comprehensive education program that teaches skills such as utilizing allies and finding mentors; understanding rules, laws and rights; depersonalizing issues; and planning the steps required to achieve goals. If successful, Pitcoff and Krebs’s model could make the foster care years not the defining aspect of a young person’s life, but the foundation for a productive future. [06/19/06]