All Grown Up

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

Ford says caseworkers do the same thing, by telling kids the truth about what they'll lose if they run away. "Just like any good parent, you share that information and our youth make choices just like my birth kid did. They make choices and you live with them. And when they come back, they might not say, 'I was wrong.' It's just, 'I'm back.' And you help them pick up from where you left off. You scrape them off and you don't have to do the 'I told you so,' but you look at 'Where are we going from here?'"

Except, of course, for the kids whose cases were closed. They don't get to come back.

Kayla Figueroa has been in and out of foster homes 
since she was nine.
Anthony Camera
Kayla Figueroa has been in and out of foster homes since she was nine.
Stephanie Wooten
Anthony Camera
Stephanie Wooten

When Cabrini Carrillo left foster care three years ago, she got her own place in Pueblo. Three months later, she bought a house with a boyfriend, who hit her. When he left her for another girl, Cabrini lost it. "I tried to hang myself," she says. "I'd just lay on my couch all day. I couldn't go to work. Couldn't get out of bed. I drank for sixteen days straight and ended up in the hospital for alcohol poisoning."

Cabrini couldn't make the payments and lost the house. She got back together with her ex, and he rented an apartment for them to share. When they broke up again, she lost yet another place to live. Cabrini stayed with a cousin, friends, at shelters. Then she met another man, who gave her a job and a place to live; he asked her to marry him after two months. "I guess it was somebody who loved me, and he had a big family and I could be a part of that," she says. It wasn't long before she found out he was cheating on her. With nowhere to go, Cabrini felt trapped. After a year of being on her own, she called her former foster mother, Lori McKinney.

"I don't know what I'm going to do," the nineteen-year-old told her. "I need help so bad. I'm not going to make it here."

Lori asked if she was serious. She explained that Cabrini would have to get a job and get her life together immediately. She refused to bring her to Denver if she was just going to run back to Pueblo.

"I'm so serious," Cabrini responded. "Please help me."

When the girl told her fiancé that she was leaving, he locked her in a room, busted her cell phone and pushed her so hard she thought he'd broken her rib. He put a gun to her head and told her he'd find her and kill her if she left him, or he'd kill himself. He didn't let her out of his sight that night, but the next day she left for work and never came back. She ran away to a friend's house, where she stayed until Lori could get there.

Back at Lori's, Cabrini got a job right away at King Soopers. She contacted her Chafee case worker, who told her about Family Tree and the FUP voucher. But before Cabrini's name could work its way to the top of the waiting list, Lori caught Cabrini drinking and told her she had to leave.

She went to her grandmother's house, but being there stirred up memories of sexual abuse. Cabrini realized it was a pattern in her family, one her grandma had refused to stop or even acknowledge when it was happening to her daughters. Cabrini confronted her grandmother, and the woman kicked her out. Having no where else to go, she went back to her biological mother. Nothing there had changed. "They took all my money. My [older] brother almost killed me. One day, my brother was hitting me, and my mom was like, 'Just kill her and put her in the back alley. Nobody cares.'"

Cabrini left her mom's house last summer and bounced between other relatives' homes -- including one two-bedroom apartment where twelve people were living and Cabrini slept in the closet. Finally, just after Christmas, Cabrini's caseworker at Family Tree called with good news: She was approved for a housing voucher, and the money would be available in January. "I've held it strong since," she says. "Not that I could screw this up. How can I not make it?"

In June, Cabrini heard about Bridging the Gap and opened up an account. By August, she was one of two youth from the Denver site invited to attend a Jim Casey Youth Opportunities Initiative leadership conference in San Diego. Cabrini fell to her knees when she entered her own suite in a five-star hotel. "I'm sorry, but that is the most beautiful thing I've ever seen in my whole entire life," she says. They had crystal water glasses at their workshops and ate elaborate poolside dinners. "These people don't even know me, but they take me very seriously," she says. "Everyone I met told me I'm going to be successful. That's what Jim Casey does -- they make you feel important. I'm going to be important someday. I'm going to change so many lives. I'm excited about life. I love my life. I do."

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