Wednesday, November 07, 2007

Former foster child makes a wonderful foster mother

Miss Carbonell goes to Washington
Best, Jennifer. Los Angeles Times, Sept. 21, 2007

Santa Maria, CA - As a foster child, Joscelynn Carbonell heard all the assumptions.

“People say foster children are troublemakers, thieves, promiscuous, that they use hard-earned tax money, look for easy handouts. I had friends whose parents wouldn't let me play with them anymore once they found out I was a foster child,” said Carbonell.

Now 22, well-spoken and widely traveled, Carbonell is in her last term at Allan Hancock College. She also serves as an outspoken advocate for foster children and the programs that support them. Wednesday she spoke in Washington, D.C., in favor of House and Senate bills supporting kinship care, particularly among the Latino population.

Currently, Carbonell explained, the foster care system provides monetary, social and other support to foster families, but there is no similar support for kinship care - foster care provided by relatives of a minor when their own parents, for whatever reason, are no longer able to provide that care.

“If they're willing to provide support to families who will take in strangers, why won't they provide that support for families who are willing to take in their own relatives in times of need,” Carbonell reasoned.

This week's emphasis on the Latino population stems from the culture's tradition of maintaining close family ties which often lead relatives to care for their extended families, but her focus usually spans all cultures.

“Every group has a culture. Your family has a culture of its own, traditions of its own, whether you're Filipina or Latina or African-American or white. What matters most is that children are given a loving environment, no matter what else their culture provides,” Carbonell said.

The Santa Maria native entered the foster care system at age 8 when she was taken in by Sue Crowley, a 25-year veteran of the foster system. While some foster children shuffle from one foster situation to another, Carbonell said she “was blessed” to have a stable home with Crowley.

My foster mother is amazing. She's one reason I'm as successful and stable as I am. My two greatest influences have been my foster mother and my faith,” Carbonell said.

Shortly before she turned 16, Carbonell got involved in the Community Action Commission of Santa Barbara County's Independent Living Program at Hancock. The program is designed to help foster care youth achieve self-sufficiency as they transition out of the foster care support system. It includes mentoring as well as daily living, survival, interpersonal and computer skills. The program also helps participants with college and job applications and to establish independent living situations.

In 2002, Carbonell graduated from Righetti High School and moved to Hawaii to attend a bible college and live with her own sister. She later returned to Santa Maria to attend Hancock College and intern with ILP. She also interned in Los Angeles with Metrokids and is currently interning with Foster Club, a national network for young people in foster care. She looks forward to transferring to a four-year university where she plans to major in speech communication and minor in psychology.

"She's an amazing kid. You can count on her for just about anything. In spite of what she's been through in life she's made the system work for her. She's probably why I'm still doing it. I've watched these kids' lives as they've grown, and she's one of the success stories,” said Crowley, who has served as long-term foster parent for more than 20 children and sheltered hundreds of others.

“Some kids really fight the system, they don't want to be involved in the foster program, but she's always made the most of it,” Crowley said.

Early on, Carbonell discovered special programs that were available to her because of her status as a foster child including internships, travel opportunities and scholarships.

“The county has a lot to offer and foster parents have a lot to offer too, but you have to work with the system: you have to attend school, you have to stay out of trouble,” Crowley said. “Instead, too many of the kids are so anxious to get away from the system that they miss the opportunities that are provided just for them.”

Ultimately, Carbonell would like to start a California Youth Connections chapter in Santa Barbara County. The statewide nonprofit foster youth advocacy program led by current and former foster youth provides a voice for foster children. They advocate for legislation supporting their needs, provide education and peer support.

“The more we can give youth a voice, the more power they will have to change the system to help future foster children,” she said.

She would also like to open an art center for youth, particularly foster youth and others in need of additional support and mentorship. She sees the center as a place for youth to express their various artistic talents, from music to poetry, dance to DJ.

“These kids express themselves through art because they have no other outlet. No one hears them any other way,” she said. “Having a place where they are free to explore their art also might give them a step up on scholarship opportunities those talents might provide them.”

But more immediately she'd like to find more support for foster families, and more foster families to serve area children in need.

“I'd like to see foster parents being treated better, with more respect and more credit for what they do,” she said.

For questions about becoming a foster parent and or an adoptive parent, contact the Foster Parent information line at (866) 899-2649.


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