Failed Adoptions Lead to More Homeless Youth

January 9, 2012

From Chicago News Cooperative:

Lamar West has lost parents twice in his life. The first time was when he was 4; the second was a month before his 18th birthday. The circumstances differed, but the outcomes did not.

When West, 20, tries to remember his biological parents, his eyes close and his face goes still. He remembers his mother’s name, Rochelle Griffin. Then he recalls a place — a hallway, an office — and fragments of conversation. “Records. Drug abuse. Termination.”

At age 5, West was adopted from the Illinois child welfare system. His four siblings went elsewhere. Parental rights were terminated. His child welfare case was closed. His last name and birth certificate were changed, listing his adopter, Frankie Lee West, as his mother. He had a new family.

He lived in West’s Roseland home with her and her eight other children (six of them were adopted) for years. But in 2008, he went to stay nearby with a family friend for a few months because West’s new house on the Southwest Side had become too crowded. He remained in regular contact with her. Then, in January 2009, he went to her home and discovered it empty.

She had moved — “upped and went,” as West said — to Atlanta. It was a month before he turned 18, and a month before the checks she received from the child welfare system on behalf of West were scheduled to stop.

“I’ve never felt pain like that before,” West said of finding the empty house. “My heart was beating so fast. It was like someone was punching me from the inside of my chest.”

West is what caseworkers and providers refer to as a “failed adoption.” He is part of a growing group that is entering the local shelter system for homeless youths after their families vanish as quickly as the government checks attached to them do.

Anne Holcomb, West’s caseworker and the coordinator for the Night Ministry’s Open Door Youth Shelter, said she was dismayed by the increase in homeless cases resulting from adopted youths who reach 18, the standard cutoff age for adoption subsidies in Illinois.

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