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Missed Opportunities: Pathways from Foster Care to Youth Homelessness in America [voicesofyouthcount.org]

 

By Voices of Youth Count.

Voices of Youth: Alanna’s Story

Alanna is a 23-year-old woman living in Philadelphia.1 She was placed in foster care at the age of three, along with three siblings, because her mother was using drugs. Alanna and her siblings spent 7 years in foster care. They were initially placed together in a foster home that Alanna described as abusive. According to Alanna, the child welfare agency “did nothing” the first time Alanna reported the abuse. After she reported the abuse a second time, she and her siblings were removed from the foster home and split up. Alanna and a sister were placed with foster parents who were “really nice.” Alanna attended the same school during most of her time in foster care, and she was considered a gifted student.

At age 10, Alanna was reunited with her parents and siblings. However, her mother, who has schizophrenia and bipolar disorder, was physically abusive. Her father worked multiple jobs and was often not present. The child welfare agency did not check on Alanna and her siblings to make sure they were safe, nor was her family offered post-reunification services.

Despite feeling unsafe at home, Alanna was class president, on the track team, in the debate club, and interned at the school district. She decided to leave home at age 16 because her mother put her “on punishment” for a month for no apparent reason. After leaving home, she stayed with a sister who lived in transitional housing and then with an uncle whose home was in foreclosure. Like many young people, she experienced literal homelessness and couch surfed with a friend.

Alanna continued to attend high school and do “the stuff that I liked to do” despite not having stable housing. Her internship introduced her to a program that provided youth experiencing homelessnesswith basic resources like food, clothing, and assistance with job preparation and college applications. With the program’s help, Alanna successfully applied to and attended Penn State University. However, she experienced housing instability during holidays and summer break when she had to return to Philadelphia. Even after earning her bachelor’s degree, Alanna struggled financially and was unable to afford a place of her own.

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