Friday, December 21, 2007

I adore Amanda Denara Johnson

No home for the holidays … a former foster youth’s experience Johnson, Amanda D. Johnson. San Francisco Bay View, Dec. 19, 2007.

As an aged-out foster youth, Amanda Johnson is proud she’s now a college student, but where do youth without homes or families go when their dorms shut down for the holidays?

The holiday season is here and the feeling of joy and celebration that accompany it is in the air. This is the time of year when many people look forward to spending time with family and friends. Schools across the country are closing their doors and children are excited about having time off from school to enjoy the season.

I remember being one of those excited children growing up and looking forward to the "joyful" holidays and not having to go to school. I knew that it meant it was closer to Thanksgiving and the time when "Santa Claus was coming to town." I could not wait until we were finally "free" for a couple of weeks to enjoy our special times with loved ones. That, however, was before I entered the foster care system at the age of 14.

Now, as a sophomore in college, you would think that I, like many other students, would have that same excitement as I did when I was younger. One of the perks of being in college is that you have even longer breaks for the holidays - often times an entire month off from school. Colleges and universities across the country lock their dorms and require that all students vacate the buildings and head home for Thanksgiving and winter break.

But what happens to students like me who have recently transitioned out of the foster care system and the dorm that we currently reside in for school is actually our only home? What if you have no home for the holidays? Where and with whom are you going to spend the time when you have no real family who are waiting for you to come home? Where will you put all of your belongings? Unfortunately, these are questions I had to ask myself during last year's holiday season and the same questions I wonder about today.

When I started college, I began to live my life as an emancipated or aged-out foster youth as we are sometimes called. I was so excited about overcoming the odds and continuing my education to show myself and others who felt I would never make it how far I had come over the last few years in spite of my circumstances.

I settled into my dorm room on campus and finally felt that I had a "place of my own." As the school year progressed and the holiday season approached, one thing I did not consider was that I would have to leave my "home" for a few weeks during winter break and find a place to live in the interim.

Prior to going to college, I would spend the holidays in the various foster homes I lived in throughout my years in the system, but now that I was on my own, where was I to go? What was I to do? Every time I thought about those questions it brought up the reality that I've been trying to hide for so long - I don't have a family, it's only me! And this is how it's going to be for the rest of my time in college.

Unfortunately, I am not the only former foster youth who has had to ask these questions. Each year, more than 20,000 young Americans "age-out" of foster care, most at the age of 18 and without the appropriate resources, skills or options they need to live on their own. Not all of these youth will have to wonder where they will spend the holidays, but there are many other questions they have to ask and challenges they face as they enter the "real world."

While you may not be able to open your home during the holidays to an aged-out foster youth like me, there are many ways that you can get involved to make a difference in the lives of children and youth in care. One way is to become a "Court Appointed Special Advocate" or CASA volunteer. They are called volunteer guardians ad litem in some states.

These volunteers are everyday heroes who stand up and advocate for children and youth who are in the child welfare system as a result of alleged abuse and/or neglect. They are trained and appointed by a judge to serve as the eyes and ears of the court during a child's or family or sibling group's case to provide counsel as to what is in the best interest of the child or children.

The ultimate goal for a CASA volunteer is to find a safe, permanent and loving home for a child. I unfortunately did not have a CASA volunteer when I was in foster care, but I have known other youth who have and they have truly made a difference. Had I had someone to speak up and advocate for me in court, perhaps I might not be asking some of the questions I am today.

I still have not determined where I will spend this holiday season, but more than likely I will house-hop just as I did last year with friends and other people I know. Again, it is just one of the realities that I face as an emancipated foster youth. So often we don't think about issues unless they are ones that hit home for us.

Aging out of foster care can be filled with many challenges people never even consider. While I am not "making a list and checking it twice" this holiday season, one holiday wish is being granted by knowing that I helped raise awareness on this issue of children and youth in foster care that currently impacts more than 500,000 children in the United States.

Not only have I raised awareness, but I have also provided information on a great way for YOU to help make a life-long impact in the life of a child - by becoming a CASA volunteer. Your involvement could help find a home for a child who is currently in the system so that when they do attend college in the future, they will have a safe and permanent home with a loving family with whom to spend the holidays. For that reason alone, it truly is "the season to be jolly."

To learn more about CASA and volunteer guardians ad litem and how you can make a difference in a child's life, contact a CASA or guardian ad litem program in your community. Call 1-888-805-8457 for more information or visit the National CASA Association online at

Amanda D. Johnson is currently a sophomore at Savannah State University in Savannah, Ga. She is majoring in criminal justice and plans to become a prosecuting attorney and ultimately a judge in the future.


Blogger Gershom Kaligawa said...

what an inspiration!!! Thank you! i have added the link to this blog, and the link to CASA to my blog which is frequented by many child advocates! I am going to become a CASA volunteer!! This is the direction I have been looking for. thank you.

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