DEKALB COUNTY, Ga. - A DeKalb County program dedicated to transitioning foster teens who have outgrown the system needs the community’s help to survive.
In DeKalb, foster care workers see many teens end up pregnant or in jail after they are released from their foster family, and it’s a nationwide epidemic. According to a study done by the University of Chicago, only half of those who leave foster care get a job, six in 10 men are convicted of a crime, and three out of four women receive public assistance.
Eighteen-year-old Lauren Irby told Channel 2’s Craig Lucie she became one of those statistics, but the Dekalb County Child Advocacy Center has helped her and her friends get back on track.
“I went to the big jail. That was a wakeup call,” Irby told Lucie.
Irby said she got into a fight with another girl who was antagonizing her. She had no family to bond her out of jail.
“I actually saved money and ended up bonding myself out, and I had to go to court and stuff,” she said.
Irby said her mother, who has substance abuse problems, gave her to her aunt. Her aunt told her she couldn't take care of her, and at the age of 15, Irby joined more than 7,000 other Georgia children in foster care.
“I was only supposed to be there 30 days, but 30 days turned into three years,” she said.
And at 18 years old, Irby and many other children are pushed out.
“A lot of these kids, the day they age out of foster care, their parents pack up their stuff and put them out,” DeKalb's managing attorney Fatima el-Amin said.
That’s why the Dekalb County Child Advocacy Center created the Transitioning Youth Program.
“They have all these meetings where they talk about education and money management and just prepare you for life,” el-Amin said.
But the program may or may not be around due to its cost.
“We don't have a budget for it. It’s basically based on donations, and no donation is too small,” el-Amin said.
Irby has a job that she gets to by using MARTA public transit or depending on friends for a ride. She hopes other teens don't run away from post-foster programs that she says keep everyone out of trouble.
“It’s best to stay,” she said.
The advocacy center is asking for either donations or volunteers. Organizers are looking for people who can help tutor or give financial advice to the teens. Donations can be sent to the Gregory A. Adams Juvenile Justice Center, DeKalb County Transitioning Youth Program, 4309 Memorial Drive, Decatur, Ga. 30032.