Local group aims to help former foster kids with empowerment, housing.

    Kishma George has been a part of many young people’s lives as a mentor and therapist. It was one young man’s troubles that made her realize she needed to do something bigger to help young adults.

    On his 18th birthday, George’s client was told he needed to leave his foster home. Because his foster mom was not receiving any funds for him anymore, she didn’t want him in her house.

    So George drove the young man around to shelters, which were full, and then dropped him off
with his brother for the night. The next morning, she was able to find a shelter that would accept him, which gave her 30 days to find him an apartment, employment and the life skills he would need to survive.

    “Something had to be done because he did not ask to be in foster care,” she said.

    That young man’s struggles are not uncommon, and George is trying to help others like him with the K.I.S.H. Home Inc., a transitional home for women 18 to 23 who have aged out of foster care.

    She would like to have the house open in 2010 and eventually help both men and women. Until then, she’s reaching out to young women with a mentoring program titled Women Destined for Greatness. The first session will be held from 1 to 3 p.m. Saturday, March 28, at the Kent County Public Library.

    The mentoring program will help women with self-esteem, financial management, leadership, etiquette, balancing work and family responsibilities and more. The program is open to women 18 to 25 who are in or have aged out of the foster care system in Delaware. The monthly support group provides a forum for these women, as well as one-on-one mentors.

    George said lack of mentors and adult guidance is one of the biggest problems these young people face.

    “Even though they’re 18, or even 20, you still need that type of guidance. You need someone to help you along the way,” she said.

    According to the December 2008 white paper “Our Children: Aging out of Foster Care in Delaware,” the main issues facing those leaving foster care are education, housing, employment, health care, transportation and teen parents.

    Allison Cassidy, coordinator of the Delaware Girls Initiative, said some expect 18 to be “the magic number” in terms of being ready to succeed as an adult.

    “How many of us at 18 can handle all of those things?” she asked. “Many of us couldn’t.”

    The white paper stated that housing is the No. 1 issue facing these young adults. Although the Delaware Children’s Campaign, which published the paper, now is defunct, it reported that many of these youth will face risk factors for chronic homelessness, including mental health problems or substance abuse issues.

    According to the paper, less than 20% of Delaware youth who age out of foster care each year will be accepted into a transitional housing program. This year, 36 young adults will be accepted into supervised housing spots, with independent landlords and contracted providers, including the Elizabeth W. Murphey School and People’s Place II.

    Those 36 young adults will have caseworkers who can help them navigate the world without a familial support system.

    According to Kelly Bachman, spokesperson for the Department of Children, Youth and Their Families, the division of Family Services is working with the Delaware Interagency Council on Homelessness and the Delaware Housing Authority to get more positions and help more youth.

    “It is a low number [36] and youth do need to have as much support as possible,” she said. “We do what we can to provide that support for them.”

    One of the housing hurdles, according to Cassidy, is that many youth are too young to get government help with housing.

    “You cannot get on the subsidized housing list until you’re 18. That’s a big problem,” Cassidy said.

    So once they age out, they are homeless and have to wade through red tape of subsidized housing. And if they have mental health issues, and many do, they are no longer in the child mental health system. They have to re-apply to government services as adults.

    “That’s OK, they just need somebody to walk them through it,” Cassidy said. “But who’s there to walk them through it?”

    George hopes her empowerment program will help give young women that constant mentor to rely on, although she knows the most important key is housing. That’s why she’s so intent on getting K.I.S.H. Home up and running.

    “You can’t really be stable or do anything if you don’t have a house over your head,” she said. “Even if we provide employment, and provide different workshops to empower them, the main thing is housing. So that they feel secure, they are safe. You can move from one transition to another transition, and you are safe.”

    To register for the March 28 workshop or for more information on K.I.S.H. Home Inc., call George at 399-6477.

     Email Sarika Jagtiani at sarika.jagtiani@doverpost.com