Right here’s What Can Occur When Youngsters Age Out of Foster Care

Right here’s What Can Occur When Youngsters Age Out of Foster Care Two teenagers aged out of New Mexico’s youngster welfare system final 12 months. This photograph essay reveals how completely different their lives have change into.

Nevaeh Sanchez, left, and Birdie Gonzales, proper, each aged out of New Mexico’s foster care system final 12 months. One among them landed on a path towards stability; the opposite had hassle discovering her manner.

Sequence: Nowhere to Go: New Mexico’s Troubled Foster Care System New Mexico dedicated to reforming its youngster welfare system, but it surely’s leaving a few of its most troubled foster teenagers with out the assistance they want.

This text was produced in partnership with Searchlight New Mexico, which was a member of ProPublica’s Native Reporting Community. Join Dispatches and Searchlight’s free e-newsletter to get tales like this one as quickly as they’re printed.

Final 12 months, 63 children in New Mexico turned 18 and aged out of foster care. It’s a fraught time; after spending their lives in a system that micromanages their each transfer, the kids are thrust into maturity, left to fend for themselves whereas scuffling with the aftereffects of a childhood typically spent biking amongst foster houses. Some thrive. Many don’t.

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Roughly 30% of foster youth find yourself homeless after getting older out of foster care, nationwide research present. An estimated 1 in 4 find yourself incarcerated.

The New Mexico Kids, Youth and Households Division has made efforts to reverse these grim statistics. Notably, CYFD launched its Fostering Connections program in 2020 for youth who age out of the foster system. It gives some help with housing, meals and behavioral well being care.

That’s typically not sufficient, advocates say. Kids in foster care expertise excessive ranges of trauma and excessive charges of post-traumatic stress dysfunction and different psychological well being circumstances. Including to their struggles, CYFD has been housing foster kids in inappropriate and generally unsafe settings, the place they’ll’t get the soundness and psychiatric care they want. A 2022 investigation by Searchlight New Mexico and ProPublica discovered that a few of CYFD’s highest-needs children spent years going backwards and forwards between psychiatric hospitals and youth homeless shelters. (CYFD management has beforehand acknowledged that children shouldn’t be staying in shelters, however that generally they “must make very troublesome choices below extraordinary circumstances.”)

Discovering a spot to dwell, getting work, shopping for a automotive and navigating the world could be overwhelming for any teen — but it surely’s much more so for teenagers who haven’t had supportive households and don’t have an grownup of their life who can assist.

Even teenagers who join Fostering Connections can fall via the cracks. It may take months earlier than they begin receiving help via this system, leaving them in limbo at one of the crucial susceptible durations of their lives. In response to their attorneys, teenagers could be so traumatized by their time in foster care that they refuse any supply of help from the company after they’ve aged out. They’re decided to depart the state’s orbit fully.

Listed below are the tales of two younger girls who aged out final 12 months. Though their tales are completely different in some ways, one distinction specifically stands out: Within the months after leaving foster care, one had the constant help of a caring grownup. The opposite didn’t.


Roberta Gonzales, who goes by Birdie, was 10 years previous when she and her youthful brother have been taken out of their aunt’s dwelling in Albuquerque and positioned in foster care. Her brother was adopted; Gonzales has not seen him since. However CYFD by no means discovered her a steady dwelling.

As a substitute, she spent the remainder of her childhood in residential remedy facilities, first in San Marcos, Texas, after which at Desert Hills, one in all a number of psychological well being amenities in New Mexico which have shut down within the final 5 years amid allegations of abuse, lawsuits and strain from state regulators.

By 2019, with fewer residential remedy facilities at its disposal, CYFD was more and more counting on youth homeless shelters to accommodate high-risk children, together with some who have been suicidal. As soon as there, many teenagers routinely skilled psychological well being crises or ran away. When no shelters have been out there, CYFD would home a few of them in its Albuquerque workplace constructing.

Gonzales was one in all these teenagers. The cots and bean bag chairs on the CYFD workplace have been too uncomfortable to sleep on, she recalled. “I normally simply slept on the ground.”

Gonzales turned 18 final 12 months and, after a stint in Las Cruces, moved again to Albuquerque.

One among her favourite issues to do was attend companies at locations like Calvary Church, which hosts neighborhood occasions like an annual Fourth of July fireworks present, or Sagebrush Church, each in Albuquerque. She stated she preferred the pastors and the music.

Gonzales attends a service at Sagebrush Church in northwest Albuquerque.

As a former foster youth, Gonzales was entitled to housing help from CYFD. The company helped her begin the paperwork when she was 17, however as her 18th birthday got here and went, she was unclear how the system labored and nonetheless had no concept what assist she would get or when. Her former caseworker known as to test on her periodically, she stated. However she by no means appeared to get the assistance she wanted.

“I received kicked out [of foster care] on my birthday and now I’m homeless,” she stated. “CYFD simply left me to do that by myself.”

When requested for remark, a CYFD spokesperson stated that “Fostering Connections advantages are typically seamless.” It would take time for some youth to obtain advantages after they flip 18, however “CYFD employees does help with the paperwork and assets,” the spokesperson stated.

After Gonzales aged out, an uncle gave her a bit cash to pay for meals, garments and shelter. The cash went quick. Inside weeks, she was broke. She lived briefly with a cousin earlier than transferring right into a Christian grownup homeless shelter.

However she discovered the shelter’s tight quarters and strict guidelines too stifling and shortly determined to depart. She spent a lot of her time on the Alvarado Transportation Middle bus cease downtown, generally driving the bus round city to go the time.

Whereas ready to catch a bus, Gonzales notices a person mendacity on the sidewalk. Considering he might need overdosed, she reaches out to the touch him and realizes he’s scarcely respiratory. She calls 911 after which sees the person has resumed respiratory extra usually. Her bus arrives moments later, and she or he hops on together with her new pal.

For a short interval, Gonzales’ uncle paid for a room in a motel so she might have a secure place to sleep for a number of nights. The room — full with a clear mattress, pillows and personal rest room — was like heaven, she stated.

Later that week, Gonzales went to Calvary Church, the place a volunteer provided to hope together with her and one other girl joined in. Gonzales had advised pastors at each Calvary and Sagebrush church buildings that she was homeless and residing on the road. One pastor prayed together with her and signed her up for a baptism.

A volunteer at Calvary Church leads a prayer.

Earlier than going to Calvary Church, Gonzales had met a bunch of people that provided to take her to the Savers thrift store so she might get some new issues to put on. Somebody had stolen her belongings, so she was ecstatic concerning the purchasing journey. She eagerly tried on her new garments within the Calvary Church car parking zone and carried the Savers bag together with her for days, with all her possessions inside.

After attempting on garments, she had no plan for the place to sleep or what to do for meals — that night time or within the days forward. She seemed for someplace to sleep after midnight. She discovered a ledge in entrance of her favourite bus cease.

However when a safety guard noticed her and advised her to depart, she walked throughout the road and settled on the sidewalk.

The next afternoon, Gonzales began to have issue respiratory and started to really feel very popular. After she known as 911, paramedics met her below an overpass.

She was taken to the College of New Mexico Hospital and wheeled to a room. “It seems like I’m dying,” she advised medical doctors.

Gonzales had beforehand been to the UNM Hospital, for varied points, and a number of the nurses knew her by identify.

Being on the hospital wasn’t so dangerous, she stated — it was a snug place to sleep for the night time, and she or he might cost her cellphone.

“Any modifications to your handle?” medical doctors requested her whereas getting ready a nebulizer to stabilize her respiratory. “I’ve no handle,” she replied.

She stayed on the hospital for a number of days whereas the employees monitored her lungs. Medical doctors later recognized her with Castleman illness, a uncommon dysfunction that impacts the lymph nodes.

Greater than a 12 months has handed since then. When contacted this fall, Gonzales stated she’d reconnected together with her mom and talks to her often. She stated a CYFD Fostering Connections employee has been in contact together with her and checks in periodically over the cellphone. Though CYFD offers job help for youth who age out, it hadn’t helped her discover a job, she stated, so “I’ve been trying myself.” The company hadn’t helped her discover housing both, she added. She did discover a place to dwell, briefly. However it didn’t final.

“I’m homeless once more,” she stated in September. Till she will be able to discover steady housing and a job, she’s residing at a homeless shelter in Albuquerque.

It doesn’t all the time occur this manner. With the appropriate help, youth can thrive after foster care.


Nevaeh Sanchez was 15 when CYFD investigators decided she wanted to be taken into foster care. She and her youthful brother had been residing with their father in a run-down home in Española that didn’t have working water.

When a caseworker arrived to choose her up, she and her brother have been pushed to not a foster dwelling, however to a youth homeless shelter in Taos, the place they lived alongside different children with nowhere to go.

CYFD advised Sanchez and her brother they might be within the shelter for just some days whereas the state discovered them a relative to stick with, or till the company’s investigation was full they usually might return dwelling. However the days turned to weeks, and the weeks to months. “We didn’t even know we have been within the [foster] system till two months in,” Sanchez stated.

Three months after her arrival in Taos, shelter employees kicked her out after discovering marijuana in her room. CYFD moved her to a homeless shelter in Santa Fe. Then the company moved her to a different shelter in Albuquerque, then to a different. And one other. Between shelter stays, she would sleep in CYFD’s Albuquerque workplace constructing.

“It’s all only a ready sport” till they’ll discover you a mattress, which was inevitably at a shelter, Sanchez stated. Youngsters say this “shelter shuffle,” because it’s identified, makes them really feel just like the system has given up on them.

Final 12 months, with the assistance of her mentor, Sanchez discovered a rental with a bed room of her personal.

Lots of the teenagers Sanchez lived with within the shelters had no one to help them and located themselves thrust into maturity alone after getting older out of foster care. However on this respect, Sanchez was fortunate.

When she was taken into the system, a decide assigned Lori Woodcock to be her court-appointed particular advocate, or CASA — a volunteer skilled to help kids in foster care.

CASAs have a important position: They collect details about a toddler’s foster care case, suggest companies and advocate for the kid’s greatest curiosity in court docket proceedings. The assistance they’re allowed to offer, nevertheless, is usually restricted to points associated to the court docket case.

Sanchez wanted assist with real-world points — discovering a job, attending to work, discovering a spot to dwell.

“As a CASA I couldn’t drive her to appointments or job interviews, or any of the issues she really wanted assist with,” Woodcock stated.

So Woodcock give up her position as a CASA volunteer, opting as a substitute to work independently as a mentor to Sanchez. Working exterior the foster care system, she was in a position to give Sanchez the assistance she wanted to get on her ft.

Lori Woodcock helps Sanchez with paperwork to purchase a automotive.

The Fostering Connections program gives some companies for teenagers once they flip 18 to ease the transition out of foster care. However Sanchez stated she didn’t get any assist on the time of her birthday.

Sanchez had spent practically all her time in foster care residing within the shelter system, the place the employees monitored the youngsters 24/7. She all the time shared a room with different children and wanted permission to make use of her cellphone, go for a stroll and even shut a door.

However when she turned 18, with the assistance of Woodcock, she discovered a rental with a room of her personal.

“I’ve by no means had an opportunity to dwell” prior to now, she stated. “I’ve been surviving.”

“Individuals don’t perceive how fortunate they’re that they get to sleep in their very own mattress,” Sanchez says. “It’s loopy, I’m like, I can shut my very own door, I could be in my room all day, I could be by myself cellphone.”

In Might 2021, Sanchez utilized for a job as a cashier on the Frontier, a preferred restaurant throughout the road from the College of New Mexico campus. She held the job for 2 and a half years — even incomes three raises for good efficiency.

“She’s thriving,” Woodcock stated.

One other big step was getting her personal cellphone.

Throughout her time in foster care, Sanchez’s cellphone use had been regimented. Most shelters prohibit telephones completely due to liabilities and security protocols.

Final summer season, she purchased a cellphone together with her personal cash.

“You weren’t allowed something close to the web, close to a pc, close to a cellphone or something, except it was fully licensed,” Sanchez says.

However there was a fair greater milestone to deal with: getting a automotive. With a car of her personal, she wouldn’t must depend on others to get to work or to appointments in a metropolis as sprawling as Albuquerque.

She had already gotten her driver’s license. However Sanchez had no financial savings. It was practically unimaginable to discover a used automotive that she might afford.

Then Woodcock noticed a 2001 Dodge Neon on the market. She bought the automotive outright for Sanchez, who reimbursed her over the next months.

It was a momentous step.

Woodcock works with Sanchez to navigate the paperwork for her automotive. “It nonetheless doesn’t really feel actual,” Sanchez stated later that day. “I don’t must be scared anymore. I don’t must rely on different individuals.”

She’s now paid again the whole price of the automotive — $3,000.

“She’s my position mannequin,” Sanchez stated of Woodcock. “I’m very glad that that girl discovered potential in me and helps me with my life. She units me up for the appropriate path.”

“Having even one single caring grownup in a teen’s life can completely imply the distinction between success and failure after leaving foster care,” stated Annie Rasquin, government director of CASA First, the workplace the place Woodcock labored earlier than leaving to assist Sanchez.

The gaps within the CASA system have all the time been an issue, Rasquin stated. Impressed partly by the success of Woodcock’s work with Sanchez, CASA First established a mentorship program this 12 months. It trains volunteers to provide further help to foster teenagers who want it.

The small duties adults must handle — like altering a primary flat tire — really feel like massive accomplishments, Sanchez says.

In October, Sanchez began specializing in her GED full time. Within the coming years, she stated she hopes to begin a enterprise as a cosmetologist or tattoo artist. Her Fostering Connections employee has helped her in planning for the longer term, she stated.

Prior to now, “I had nothing — 100% no management over my life,” she stated. “I’m lastly getting up for the primary time.”

Sanchez within the yard of the house the place she rented a room final 12 months