Can death of a young man save future kids in Florida’s foster care?
Sentinel special report: Fixing Foster CareApril 17, 2010|By Kate Santich, Orlando SentinelIn the last photo ever taken of him alive, Regis Little is a handsome teen, his head cocked back confidently, a bemused smile across his lips. A faint patch of young beard curls from his chin.
Frozen in that moment, he looks invincible.
In reality, the 18-year-old product of Florida’s foster-care system was tragically vulnerable.
One night last July, several months after he had aged out of the system, he was found stabbed in a parking lot off International Drive, a crowd of spectators gathered around his body. By the time paramedics arrived, Regis Little was dead.
“It’s one of those things you hope never happens to any kid,” said Bart Mawoussi, a spokesman for the local nonprofit agency that contracts with the state to help foster children. “When it did happen, we had to stop and ask ourselves, ‘What went wrong? Could we have saved him?’ ”
The agency, Family Services of Metro Orlando, took the radical step of forming a task force to investigate the young man’s turbulent journey through the state’s system and to recommend changes. What they ultimately found were foster-care and school systems that missed opportunities to intervene with a child who needed stability, special education and an advocate.
Though the answers would come too late for Regis, perhaps they could help the 1,500 other foster kids who will turn 18 this year in Florida — about 140 in Orange and Osceola counties alone.
Results from a recent national study of former foster children are sobering: By their mid-20s, about 37 percent have been homeless, nearly 25 percent lack a high-school diploma or GED, and fewer than half are working (and their median income is $8,000 a year). Sixty percent of the men have been convicted of a crime.
The findings are “heartbreaking,” said Carrie Hoeppner, spokeswoman for the Florida Department of Children and Families central region. Though there is evidence that Florida’s former foster youth fare better than those in the study, she points out, it is nonetheless up to the kids to take advantage of the full range of state services that can salvage their futures.
And that’s a big problem