Family Court’s Teen Day aims to help kids in foster care
Judges, lawyers, court employees and a group of kids in foster care packed the eighth floor of the Kings County Family Court on Wednesday for Teen Day, a day designed to help kids in foster care transition from care to life on their own.
The teens who attended the event currently have cases in the court. At Wednesday’s program, multiple tables were set up to provide information on about how to go on job interviews, how to schedule a doctor’s appointment, how to get health insurance and resume training. Kids who attended were also provided lunch and free clothes.
“A few years ago, all the family courts got together and decided to have Teen Day, where they decided to get all of this stuff together in one place so that teens can have one day a year in each family courthouse so that they can find out about this stuff,” said Emily Martinez, a court attorney referee.
The main event was a discussion by Jim Saint Germain, Charlene Adams, Demetrius Johnson and Maurice Reid — four young adults who have been through foster care. They spoke to each other and to the teens about how they overcame their own issues and achieved success.
Germain, a Haitian immigrant who struggled in foster care after coming to the United States, is a Kings Family Court Teen Day alumni; he spoke at the same event a year ago and was the host of the discussion. The John Jay College graduate, who is currently attending Wagner Graduate school at NYU to get his masters, spoke about how little things can have a huge effect on teens in care.
“The adults in this room should know that whenever you come into contact with a young person, you have power, and that power might not mean adopting a kid or buying them certain things. It might just be a conversation telling the kid, ‘I believe in you, I have faith in you.’ Sometimes young people haven’t heard that and it can make a big difference in their lives.”
Germain asked each of the panelists various questions about their lives, what affected them and how they found the strength to not only make it through to adulthood, but also to thrive. While all of the speakers acknowledged that foster care was extremely hard on them, they also said it the experience made them better people.
“I believe that everyone in foster care is a gladiator,” said Reid, who was in foster care beginning at age of four and is currently a junior at New York University. “You are a warrior. You have to keep on fighting and your story is going to be amazing. When you realize who you are, people are going to say, ‘wow, that’s amazing.’”
Adams was in foster care from the age of 15 until she turned 21. She said the toughest part of the experience was the fact that at age 15, she suddenly had to become an adult with no one to watch out for her.
“All of the negative influences that I had in my family…I saw that and knew that’s not how I wanted to end up,” said Adams, who got her associate’s degree from SUNY Delhi and a bachelor’s from Brooklyn College. “So school, for me, was always an outlet so I wouldn’t have to depend on those people.”
Johnson entered the foster care system at age four and lived in more than 30 foster homes throughout his life. He said that by the age of 13, his mother had passed away, his brother had been sent to jail and he had completely lost hope for himself. Johnson recalled that it was the words of a case worker that spurred him to get an advanced regent’s diploma and a full scholarship to St. John’s University, where he is currently working toward a law degree.
“My struggle was just having confidence and believing in myself, because after being in the system my entire life and being in over 30 foster homes all throughout the five boroughs, your confidence and self-esteem disappear. You don’t have anyone that believes in you.”
“I’ve actually had a very hard life, so I have a particular interest to making sure that young people get the kind of services that they need,” said Hon. Susan S. Danoff, who helped to organize the event. “These kids that spoke here today are truly remarkable young adults. They had great stories to tell and they even inspire me.”
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