Tuesday, November 18, 2008

"Where will I go?"

I commend MPT for recognizing the importance of bringing issues of foster care in Maryland to its viewers in the program Foster Care Stories: A Place to Be airing Thursday, November 20 at 9:30 p.m. To tie in a phone bank to show how anyone can help a foster child will do much to engage our community with this important population.

My wife and I were foster parents to teenage girls for ten years and adopted two of the teens we fostered. Many people have questioned our sanity for fostering teens! While it can be challenging, it also brought us tremendous rewards. Teens in foster care have many times given up on finding an adoptive family and resign themselves to aging out of the foster care system. This is a tragedy! Even though they will tell you they don’t want to be adopted, they silently hope that someone can reach out to them and accept them as their own.

Many people ask me how I’ve become so involved in foster care, and I tell them the about moment that has changed my life in this regard. I received a call from one of my daughters who was finishing up her first semester at Salisbury University, and she informed me that the university required students to move everything out of their dorm room during winter break. Anyone who has ever moved a daughter into a college dorm knows what this involves! The thought of hauling everything back home only to move it back in four weeks didn’t leave me in a good mood. After the call I noticed our 14-year-old foster daughter wanted to say something to me but seemed hesitant. When I finally asked her if she was okay she said, “Mr. Duane, when I go to college and have to leave for my breaks where will I go?” I realized that for someone growing up in foster care, moving furniture out might not be the biggest problem.

That question from our foster daughter kept running through my mind for the next couple of weeks. I started to research programs on the Internet that provided permanent homes for youth in foster care and identified a program in Illinois. I sent out to form a non-profit organization to replicate the program in Baltimore. After six years of work and a few million dollars, Clare Court was opened in Baltimore to provide housing to families adopting children, grandparents raising their grandchildren and senior citizens. On the day Clare Court was dedicated, I couldn’t help but think about how a question from a teenager in foster care changed my life.

Duane St. Clair
St. Clair Associates

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