TYLER, Texas (KETK) — “There was some abuse, and my last placement was just terrible, “said Malajah Shepherd of Longview.
She is now free from the Texas foster care system as she ages out after graduating high school.
“Mistreatment. Getting mistreated by others like our foster parents who had their own kids would treat me differently,” said Shepherd.
She is just one of many children who faced abuse, neglect and trauma while waiting to find a forever home in foster care.
“They still need to be cared for and loved. I don’t know about you, but I still depend on my parents. These kids did not ask to be in this situation or asked to be aged out,” said a Tyler foster parent, Casey Cook.
Cook shared her concerns saying there are not enough families willing to care for older children.
“Our caseworkers are here every month and they look at our home, and look at where they are sleeping and ask all the questions. I know that’s not always the case, but I feel like here in East Texas I feel the homes are secure, it’s just not having enough of them,” said Cook.
As a child graduates high school or turns 18, they are forced to start a life on their own or choose extended care. According to the nonprofit, The Fostering Collective, 2,000 children are in foster care in East Texas. Three-quarters of them are placed out of their home county for lack of foster homes. Most of these children have been abused or neglected.
“The State of Texas is in a crisis right now. It’s just become very messy and very hard on the state and on the child-placing agencies and in return, it’s hard on the foster families. They don’t want to keep doing it because they are frustrated,” said Program Director Christi Sowell, The Fostering Collective.
Shepherd, who lived in foster care for more than a year, shared that it isn’t always what it looks like on paper. Having recently aged out of the foster system, Shepherd described what she feels is a flaw in the system.
“Seeing the love the mother had for her children is what I wish I had for my mom. So, that was different because the love she had for them, she did not have for us,” said Shepherd.
Shepherd is a success story with the support through Preparation for Adult Living, focused on helping youth find housing and coaching them through life skills and responsible decisions once they age out of the foster system. Though, without a strategy for success, many will not make it on their own.
“The biggest thing that we stress with our young adults is for you have to have a plan. Whether it is you remain in extended foster care for a longer period (until you are 21) or you go off on your own. We want you to have a plan and safety net in place, a support system so you don’t find yourself living on the street or incarcerated,” said P.A.L. Program Specialist, Ben Alexander.
East Texans like Robert and Virginia Davis are also doing their part by connecting those aging out of the system with loving families who provide support and resources such as a place to do laundry, receive life advice or something as simple as companionship.
“Even once you are 18, there is still so much life that you don’t know anything about. You’re an adult, but not an adult. I thought that if you could connect a family with a young adult and kind of be that home base and that guide, mentor group, but in a family atmosphere,” said Founder of Somewhere To Call Home, Virginia Davis.
The Fostering Collective is a lifeline for both adoptive families and foster children which provides essentials for those in need.
“We have what we call the Collective Closet. This beautiful closet is where we take gently used clothes. We give the teenagers gift cards for them to pick out their own style,” said Sowell.
As for kids like Shepherd, the P.A.L program was there to help her celebrate her high school graduation and get ready for adulthood. Shepherd shows appreciation and gratitude for her grandparent.
“My grandmother has helped me through a lot, pushing me to do better and be better and not let negative energy affect me,” said Shepherd.
Giving her advice she will carry it with her as she steps into her new beginning.
East Texans can get involved or help through donation below:
- The Fostering Collective
- Donate: Texas Department of Family and Protective Services
- Somewhere to Call Home