Chris Nixon has resided in the home of Dorothy Cordero for the past six years. They were referred to me through KidsPeace, a private charity dedicated to serving the behavioral and mental health needs of children, families and communities. I interviewed them together for The Teen Toolbox National Foster Care Awareness blog series on teen males in the foster care system. Because both of Chris and Dorothy had such great insight and were hopeful their story would help other families, I will share their stories separately.
Chris will age out of foster care when he turns 21 years old this June. He decided to remain in care after age 18 so that he could receive continued support while working and attending college. As I was sharing my purpose for dedicating our May blogs to teen males (and possibly preparing to share statistics) Chris unexpectedly shared with me that “youth who exit the system at age 18 are at higher risk of ending up homeless, in jail, or much worse.” Obviously, Chris is very driven and did not come to the decision to remain in care without careful consideration. He believes that choosing to stay in foster care instead of exiting the system at 21 allows youth extra time to achieve the goals that they otherwise might not be able to achieve.
“Foster parents are afraid to take in teen males” Chris said. “But not all kids in foster care are bad.” Christ believes that when he arrived at Dorothy’s home she may have been afraid of him because of reports in his foster care file but he is grateful that she took a chance on him anyway. Christ says there were things written in his record that were not true. He believes that this happens more often than we think and it prevents youth from getting a fair chance in a loving home. Chris encourages all foster parents to get to know the child and not base their opinions solely on what is written in a file. Chris says with pride that Dorothy “took him in with open arms” and he has good advice for other foster families. “It is up to the foster parent to take a chance and up to the foster child to listen to foster parents and seek help when they need it,” he said. Chris is fully aware that this can be difficult but he knows from experience that this can turn a child’s life around.
Supporting Teen Males
When asked about his experience in foster care, Chris said that he thinks that “people think of foster care as something to be ashamed of when it’s actually something that should be praised.” Chris said he has had his ups and down in the system but he has gotten his needs met and not all children have that opportunity. He said that in his third year of high school his grades began to improve. When Dorothy saw that he was working hard she began to respect him even more. I asked how he has overcome obstacles and Chris replied that he would “step up to the plate and do what needed to be done at the time.” He says if he couldn’t solve a problem right away he would come back to it and seek a solution. Dorothy has also helped him by encouraging him to do his best and not worry about what other people think.
When asked what else can be done to support teen males in foster care, Chris said that he wants youth to be prepared for what’s to come in the future. “Independent living and job preparation training should be mandatory and take place at an early age to help lower the percent of kids’ that end up on the street,” he said. Saving lives is the reason that he also feels that young men need to learn a trade even if they plan to attend college. In case you’re wondering, the state of New York foster care system did not provide these services to him. With wisdom and candor, Chris said that he has “learned that it’s never too late to learn new things.” He said that being a foster child “gave me the opportunity to become the man I am today”. While he pursues his dreams, Chris will have the luxury of paying Dorothy rent and remaining in the home where he was welcomed as part of a family and encouraged to be the best that he can be.
I hope you are inspired by Chris’s success and will join the legions who are supporting the foster care community. Volunteer, donate, become a foster parent –- the possibilities are endless.