Aging Out – Rei’s caseifcayouth
1) For me, “aging out” meant a new beginning and was a period in which I had to face challenges associated with being a foster care alumni.
I had a choice of leaving the institutionalized care when I entered college. However, it would have been too difficult for me to pay the deposit and other fees to the first apartment. Plus, my facility staff said that it would take some time to live alone and to go to college at the same time. Therefore, I continued to live at the facility when I started my freshman year. However, “yogoshisetsu” is typically for minor children and has a curfew. I came running home from school without having a fun chat with my college peers. When I worked after school, it was often very late at night. I felt that my life had too many restrictions and wanted to have more freedom and a relaxed life style. I also wanted to join a school organization and to participate in various activities that are only available during college years. After having these desires and wishes, I finally came to the conclusion of leaving the facility. (Altogether, I only lived in a family style group home for 4 months after entering college.)
Many unexpected things happened after leaving the group home. Growing up in the group facilities all my life, I was so used to hearing noises or voices of children and staff. When I started living alone, I noticed that the environment was too quiet for me. For about 6 months, I was unable to fall asleep even with slightest noise or sound. I was suffering from semi-insomnia.
At the same time, I encountered an unexpected serious issue with my biological parent. During my stay at group facilities, I was able to consult staff about my parents. Staff members also were protective of me from potential parental interference. However, as soon as I left the last group home, my father contacted me. I did not know how to deal with my bio parents. My father himself had many unresolved issues. I was happy to be able to talk to my father again. However, as time goes by, having my father in my life became a big burden in my life. On top of insomnia, my psychological symptoms started affecting my physical health.
I was always confident about my health. …. However, I was surprised by my own reaction to the two unexpected circumstances mentioned above. “Aging out of foster care” is to gain total freedom and to become responsible for myself.” My aging-out experience ended up having to deal with extra barriers. I know for a fact that there are many alumni who do not talk to anyone about their struggles associated with leaving institutionalized care, especially those who don’t want their former facility staff or anyone in their lives worry about their wellbeing. Since I was lucky enough to be able to share my feelings and things that are occurring in my life, I selected to speak to my trustworthy college friends, teachers and facility staff. I would admit that, at first, I was excited about the notion of “aging out of the system” being followed immediately by the period of “freedom and independence”. On the contrary, the reality was not so simple and easy.
On top of all the hardship, I had to juggle my school and work to cover the tuition, fees and living cost. I also faced difficulty dealing with my own father’s sudden involvement and with having to find adults who could sign legal and other papers for me. Aging out is an experience of being thrown in to the real world without a shield or being properly “immuned”.
2) If I could change one thing to improve the lives of my peer transitioning foster youth, I would like to change the legal system of requiring a “guarantor/ co-signer” or a “guardian” for youth who are between the ages of 18 and 20. This is a so-called “limbo” period in which a majority of Japanese transitioning foster youth is out of the governmental care. However, they would not reach the age of legal majority for two full years. As a result, they face a real problem having to have a guarantor for all basic items that they need for their new start as an adult, such as getting a new apartment, a credit card, internet connection and a cell phone. The rule is that youth need leave legal placements such as group homes and foster homes at age 18, unless they apply to extend the period. However, the legal system stipulates that youth are legally adults only when they are 20 years old. It would be good if group facility directors could be grantors or co-signers for their previous youth clients. However, they are not allowed to play that role. This barrier applied to my own situation. After finding out that my brothers could not help me sign legal and other papers for me, I was unable to complete contracts with the first two apartments for the reason of not having a legal guarantor. I left my group facility at age 18. However, this really did not guarantee my independence. When I reached the legal age of 20, I was exhilarated by the fact that I was officially an adult. However, I still struggle with the obstacle related to the guarantor system. I firmly believe that this legal mandate has to change not just for minor children, but also for people with disability and other conditions.
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