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All Grown Up

At eighteen, these foster kids aged out of a system that denied them a childhood.

Kayla went to her first foster home when she was nine. There were eight girls there, all older. One day, Kayla walked into the bathroom to find one of those girls unconscious on the floor, a pool of red flowing from her slit wrist. "I had nightmares every single night after that happened," Kayla says. "To this day, I cannot see blood."

Over the next six years, Kayla was repeatedly bounced from foster homes to her mom's home, then back to new foster homes as the court tried to reunify her with a mother who often seemed more unwilling than incapable of caring for her daughter. Most of the foster homes Kayla stayed in were with parents who had their own children -- and not everyone was treated equally. She lived in a house in Arvada where the parents took their own kids shopping at Abercrombie & Fitch and the foster kids to Wal-Mart. "We would all go to the same school and the kids that were their kids would have these nice clothes and get to do all of these things, and we didn't. When you're in foster care, you can't drive. You can't spend the night at anybody's house unless they get a background check."

At twelve, Kayla started getting into fights, stealing, smoking pot. By thirteen, she had a probation officer. "I remember, she told me, 'You think this is fun now, but in ten years your life is going to be destroyed. Imagine in ten years where you want to be. You could have so much in your future.'" When Kayla was fifteen, the court decided she was safe with her mom and reunified the family permanently, closing her child-welfare case. A month later, her mom sent her to a Christian group home in Longmont. Though Kayla wasn't crazy about the chores she had to do on the farm there, she liked the fact that the work earned her privileges. During one weekend when she'd earned a pass to leave the home, she got pregnant.

"That's when I thought about what the probation officer had said to me. 'There goes the plans for the rest of my life,'" she thought. 'There goes my future. There it goes.'" The group home wouldn't let her stay, but its director invited Kayla to live with his family so she wouldn't have to go back into foster care.

The arrangement quickly became a nightmare for Kayla. The director announced to his entire congregation that he was taking her in because she was pregnant. "The church looked down on me like I was this horrible teenager," she says. "I had all these people coming up to me, asking, 'Can I take your baby?' It was the worst thing I'd ever been through in my entire life, worse than foster care."

Everyone was telling her she couldn't keep the baby. It would have a dysfunctional life with one parent. Although Kayla's mother was upset about the pregnancy, when Kayla called crying for help, her mom found Bridgeway, a home for pregnant teens in Lakewood. The private non-profit agency, funded through donations and grants, charges pregnant teens just $100 per month to live there, teaches them parenting skills and encourages them to pursue educational goals.

"Bridgeway was so great. All these people opening their arms to you, saying we support you in keeping this baby and we're going to help you," Kayla remembers. "Every Monday we would have support groups on fears. Every Tuesday, classes on breast feeding, on changing your baby, because none of us knew. I really grew up at Bridgeway."

Kayla had moved there when she was four months pregnant, and she'd immediately applied for a FUP voucher through Volunteers of America. It took a year for her to be approved, and when she was seventeen, she moved into her own apartment with her baby.

But it wasn't exactly a happy ending. The staff at Bridgeway had prevented Adam's father from visiting, but now he came back into Kayla's life -- violently. She called the police on him, but he turned the accusations back on her, and Kayla was arrested on domestic-violence charges. Adam was put into foster care two days later.

In the meantime, Jefferson County Human Services reopened Kayla's child-welfare case since she was still only seventeen and her living situation had not been safe. After a week in jail, she was placed in the same foster home as her son. Her caseworker told her she could be eligible to move to an apartment again through an Independent Living Arrangement, a statewide program funded and administered by the county human-services departments. ILA allows some foster kids to live on their own but still be supervised by a caseworker so they have support. Kayla prepared an application with a budget and bank statements and went before an ILA committee, which approved her request and awarded her a $525 monthly stipend, in place of what a foster home would have received for her care.

Kayla moved to an apartment, Adam's child-welfare case was closed, and the domestic-violence charges against her were dropped. Adam's father will have to petition the court if he wants to see his son.

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