By Brenda Maguire
HARTFORD — State leaders gathered Monday in a committee room of the Legislative Office Building looking down on four people much younger than them, but it was the group of foster youths who took command of the conversation.
The four spoke with lawmakers asking that the state make a greater effort in keeping foster siblings together, rather than sending them to separate homes, and criticized the state Department of Children and Families for not doing enough to prepare foster children for higher education.
Foster Youth Day at the Capitol on Monday was an opportunity to explain to DCF what’s working in the system and what needs fixing. Connecticut Voices for Children organized the event.
Kaysha Alicea, 18, of New Britain and Alixes Rosado, 22, formerly of New Britain, are just two of the 4,585 youth under DCF care in the state. They said it was their responsibility to speak for others in the foster-care system.
“It’s absolutely a great feeling. I enjoy speaking up and allowing our voices to be heard,” Rosado said. “It’s an important message and one that I’m delighted to share.”
Officials who gathered for the event, including DCF Commissioner Joette Katz, were told that DCF workers must do more in getting foster children to think about college.
By the age of 24, 25 percent of foster children nationwide do not have a high school diploma and only 6 percent have completed a two- or four-year college degree.
Rosado, who has been in and out of the DCF system since he was 6 years old, said social workers should discuss college options with children at a younger age.
“It’s not enough for the DCF to say, ‘Hey, you’re gonna graduate in a month, do you wanna go to college?’” he said.
Alicea, who has been in foster homes and group homes over the last four years and now is living in a residential home in New Britain, is just starting to think about college. She said it’s difficult to prepare for SATs and fill out college applications because she doesn’t have a family to help her.
Both Rosada and Alicea also spoke of their separation from siblings.
Rosado, who is one of four, was split up from his siblings at a young age.
“We don’t have a relationship,” he said of his two brothers and a sister.
He also expressed sadness that his daughter will likely never meet her uncles and aunt.
Alicea still sees her siblings, but says it’s not as often as she would like.
“We do understand places are limited and we can’t always see our siblings,” she said.
Alicea has been in a wheelchair since she was 14 years old and urged lawmakers to create more resources for children in DCF care who may have similar disabilities. She has been limited in group home and foster home selection because of the wheelchair.
Rosado also urged that policies be adopted to erase the stigma that can be associated with foster care. He explained that simple requests like asking to sleep over at a friend’s house can become complicated by an onerous approval process.
But Alicea and Rosado also expressed gratitude for their social workers and consider themselves some of the “lucky ones” who have been able to create a bright future.
Alicea, a New Britain High School junior, is hoping to attend Washington State University and major in criminal justice. She hopes to pursue a career as a juvenile probation officer.
Rosado, of Manchester, is a senior at the University of New Haven majoring in criminal justice with a concentration in investigative services.
He hopes to get his master’s degree in forensic sciences after graduation, but he also recognizes that when he turns 23 he will be out of DCF care and will need to have a steady income to support his 4-year-old daughter.