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In these times where many young people who come of age as adults in the Foster Care program, there is a sense of despair about what their future holds. Kym Kares was developed to provide guidance to those young women, especially, who find themselves cut off from assistance now that they have matured to adult age.
In most states, the transition from foster care to the “real world” is abrupt: When a foster youth turns 18, he or she suddenly goes from being part of “the system” to being on his or her own. This transition can be rough.
On November 2, 2011, the Field Center for Children’s Policy, Practice & Research at the University of Pennsylvania hosted a public hearing on aging out of the foster care system. In Pennsylvania alone, around 1,000 youths age out of the foster care system each year, according to findings presented at the hearing. Nationally, that number jumps to approximately 20,000 to 25,000 per year.
Over 100,000 children are waiting to be adopted but there are not enough available adoptive families to go around. In 2014, 22,392 children “aged out” of foster care. This means that they became too old to stay in the foster system and are forced out on their own.
Leaving home and facing life alone is scary for any young adult, but it is especially frightening for unprepared foster children who have not been raised in a stable and supportive family environment.
The future for former foster children is not bright. Statistics suggest that, of those who age out of foster care, one in four will become homeless, 71% of young women will become pregnant by the time that they are twenty-one, and one in four will experience PTSD.
Only half of those who age out of foster care will have a job by the time they are twenty-four, and by the time they are twenty-six, only four percent will have earned a four-year degree from a college compared to thirty-six percent of their peers. When these foster care children age out of the system, they often look forward to jail and homelessness.
This is one of the things that entrepreneur, Kym Smith, noticed in her charity work with young women. Kym recently moved her businesses and charity work from Georgia to California, and she says these statistics should not be happening to our children in foster care, "What I've noticed in moving from Atlanta to California is that there is a greater need for the services being provided by Kym Kares and similar types of organizations in California because there are so many young women that move to California with the dreams of becoming "Famous", but unfortunately, statistics have shown that many of them fail to make it; and a large majority of them end up on the streets because its not as easy to make it in Hollywood as is usually depicted in the movies."
Kym Smith is quick to point out that the ills of California are the ills of society and it really does take a village to site the problems and then find solutions and provide assistance.
This is why she started Kym Kares, "to promote the economic independence of disadvantaged women by providing transitional housing , career development, and support services to help young women who have aged out of the Foster Care system."
I was able to interview Kym recently about the cause and effects aging out of foster care means and why Kym Kares is helping, along with other great charitable organizations, to close this hole many of our young women are falling into.
[Referenced sources and stats: Aging Out of Foster Care by Lindsey Getz for Social Work Today - Vol. 12 No. 2 P. 12]
On the day of my so-called emancipation, I didn’t have a high school diploma, a place to live, a job, nothing...The day I emancipated—it was a happy day for me. But I didn’t know what was in store. Now that I’m on the streets, I honestly feel I would have been better off in an abusive home with a father who beat me; at least he would have taught me how to get a job and pay the bills."— —Roberta E., Los Angeles
Kym Smith, Founder of 'Kym Kares'
Kym Kaes Photo Gallery
Q&A with Kym Smith of 'Kym Kares'
Q) Kym, you have run successful businesses for several years now, what made you decide to start Kym Kares as a non-profit charity?
A) After being a successful entrepreneur for over 15 years, I decided it was time to give back to the community by making a difference in the lives of others. I have always had a passion for non-profit/ charity work, having worked with several clients to help them create their own nonprofit organizations; so to me, the next step was to create my own non-profit organization so that I could be more hands on and have more control.
Q) Who does Kym Kares target what are the goals of this newly established organization?
A) Kym Kares is a 501 c (3) nonprofit organization created to help young women who have "aged" out of the foster care system. Our goal is to provide life skills, jobs, transitional housing, and college preprapatory assistance so that these young women can successfully transition into adulthood while being independent and self-sufficient.
Q) You also have a non-profit arm of your Xtra Pair of Hands company. What's the difference between what Xtra Pair of Hands does and that of Kym Kares?
A) Whereas Kym Kares is a non-profit organization, Xtra Pair of Hands is a for-profit company that provides consulting services to business owneres who are looking to expand or start their own nonprofit organizations.We work with other non-profit organizations to help guide them from Inception to Growth. Our services include preparing the paperwork for their 501 c (3) status, creating by-laws and press releases, and also helping to organize fundraising and red carpet events; and making sure that the organization is in compliance of tax laws and regulations. We also work with non-profit organizations to help them increase their community exposure.
Q) You recently moved from being GA. based to California based with your companies, has what you seen with disenfranchised young women different from each state in terms of what's available and the help needed to allow for a better quality of life, or is it pretty much the same?
A) Great question.. What I've noticed in moving from Atlanta to California is that there is a greater need for the services being provided by Kym Kares and similar types of organizations in California because there are so many young women that move to California with the dreams of becoming "Famous", but unfortunately, statistics have shown that many of them fail to make it; and a large majority of them end up on the streets because its not as easy to make it in Hollywood as is usually depicted in the movies.The sad reality is that many of these young women are too embarrassed to return to their hometowns because they don't want to appear as a failure; so oftentimes they end up living on the streets, or worse yet, they end up getting caught up in the sex trade because these powerful men in Hollywood make them promises that are unrealistic.Studies show that within 18 months, 40-50% of young people that "age" out of the foster care system will become homeless and unemployed. So, because these women are among the highest risk in our population of becoming homeless, what we are trying to do with Kym Kares is to give them the skills and support they will need to stand on their own and become independent and self-sufficient adults.
Q) Many feel a shift in the country with this new administration and see America actually turning back the clock on many of the progresses made in the last 10 years/ and yet others see this as a great opportunity to seize the challenge of forward progress. How do you see it?
A) Although we have taken a few steps back with the new administration, I still see great potential to continue to make progress for us as a Country. For years now, non-profit organizations have filled in the gaps not covered by our government; and I think this will not change anytime soon. There are so many non-profit organizations that are under-funded, which makes it difficult to do the work they set out to do; hopefully we will see an improvement with more funding being allocated to nonprofit organizations by this new administration.
Q) What are the requirements for a young woman who has matured out of the foster care programs to receive help or assistance from Kym Kares?
A) There are no special requirements. We are here to help as many young women as possible. As long the individual can provide documentation that they have been in the foster care system, that's all we need to get started. We check legal paperwork provided by the State to make sure that the individual actually needs the help they are requesting, and that they are not abusing the system. We work closely with the foster-care facilities so that we can provide the best assistance based on the individual's circumstances. Our goal, our aim, and our mission is to help as many young women as possible.
Q) What are some of the programs and assistance Kym Kares provides a young woman seeking assistance?
A) Kym Kares will help to provide young women with life skills, transitional housing, college prep, and career development. One of the first services we offer young women is temporary housing. We pay their rent for the first few months; we help them furnish their new home; we provide them with groceries; and we pay their utility bills for the first six months while helping them find gainful employment so that they can take over these monthly expenses.We also work have professional work with them to improve their physical and emotional health; which are often necessary first steps on the road to self-sufficiency.
Q) Where do you hope to see Kym Kares 5 and 10 years from now?
A) In 5 and 10 years I envision Kym Kares being an instrumental part in changing the face of the foster-care system in our country. I hope that our organization can work side by side with some of the government agencies to provide better services for these young women. No child should be turned out on their own at the age of 18, with no resources, no family, and no way to go. In the first place, these young women are in foster care because they were abandoned by their birth parents. Therefore, they should not have to suffer again when they reach the age of 18. Kym Kares want to be able to provide a safety nest for these young women so that they feel loved and cared for throughout their lives; no matter what age they are.
Q) If you were speaking with a group of young women right now who are in foster care or recently out of foster care because of their age, or for other reasons, and that may be experiencing emotional distress, what words would you like for them to hear right now?
A) I visit foster-care facilities every month, and speak to women who are in the process of "aging" out of the foster care system, and I always tell them that with guidance, encouragement, and the right resources, the transition from foster-care to self-sufficient adulthood can be an easy journey- if they would only reach out and seek assistance..... Don't be afraid to ask for help.
There are many successful people who have been in foster-care. Often times its the choices we make in life that determines our path. Despite your circumstances, you can have a bright future if you make the right choices in life.
There are so many resources out there that are available to these young women including mental counseling, transitional housing, career development, and even assistance with applying to local colleges.
I also warn young women that oftentimes because of their circumstances, they often get involved with the wrong partners because they are seeking love and are often vulnerable, but sometimes we find love in all the wrong places. Trust your instinct.
Q) How can young women, and foster care-takers find Kym Kares on social media?
A) To receive assistance, make a donation, or to volunteer, Please visit our website at www.kymkares.org. We are also on Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, and Instagram.
Thank you Kym. We will follow-up with Kym Kares and commend you on this noble work. We will do our part to be sure this article gets out to those who can be helped by it.
The National Foster Youth Institute (NFYI)
We are making some promises to these children when we place them into foster care. We are telling them that they are getting the chance to create a better life for themselves. They are promised a safe home where they can have a family that can be called their own. For many children, these promise are just empty words that have no meaning. As the statistics show, many foster kids are aging out of the system and have nowhere to turn.
"Kym Kares will help to provide young women with life skills, transitional housing, college prep, and career development. One of the first services we offer young women is temporary housing. We pay their rent for the first few months; we help them furnish their new home; we provide them with groceries; and we pay their utility bills for the first six months while helping them find gainful employment so that they can take over these monthly expenses."
-- Kym Smith
Other articles on Aging out of Foster Care
- From Foster Care to Homelessness for California Youth | HRW
My So-Called Emancipation From Foster Care to Homelessness for California Youth Summary California’s Failure
- Calif. law gives foster care kids a boost into adulthood | Al Jazeera America
A 19-year-old’s brave steps into independence after so many foster homes, she lost count