“Statistically I’m not supposed to be here. I should be in prison, homeless, or dead.”

-LaQuinton Wagner

Statistics are not necessarily the end all.

With the overhaul of Texas’ child welfare system dominating headlines during the 2017 legislative session, we revisit the topic of transition age youth, young adults between the ages of 16 and 24 who have persistent mental health needs, particularly those in foster care and adoptive families.

In June 2014, the Hogg Foundation’s podcast host Ike Evans spoke with LaQuinton Wagner who served as a youth advocate at the Texas Network of Youth Services (TNOYS) after aging out of the foster care system. La Quinton describes his own transition after being a part of the foster care system, spending time in juvenile justice system, and being adopted later in life into a family that didn’t serve to aid his recovery. While conversation around youth like LaQuinton tends to prioritize emotional support needs, their need for the tools of effective self-advocacy are just as critical.

As LaQuinton describes the idea of “transitioning” as being very unique to the individual. He says, “Everyone has a transition period in their life in their late teens. It makes it that much more challenging when you don’t have a family behind you… You don’t have a means of getting a job, no transportation, no one to call on.”

He discusses his involvement with a Houston-based transition-age youth project and explains that there are a lot of good things happening within a “broken system.” After having spent time in juvenile justice, LaQuinton speaks to the feeling of being stuck and how youth in the system feel like they can’t do anything in their lives. But he encourages kids to look for someone to be a good influence during those tough times.

Confronting a Broken System

LaQuinton also suggests he doesn’t have anything positive to say about his experience in the mental health system while in foster care. He warns that we need to take a hard look at how medication is given to kids who don’t really need it. He knows from experience that his anger issues—which were triggered from abuse he experienced—were “dealt with” through medication and emotional punishment. But that approach actually made his aggression worse.

“There’s a different view of youth who are in foster care or have failed adoption,” says LaQuinton. And he encourages all parents, lawmakers and advocates to make decisions about kids in foster or adoptive families as if they were their own kids.

He’s finally beginning to build a support system, referencing his personal relationships, adoptive siblings and now biological family as drivers of this change.

Following our discussion with LaQuinton, we speak with Elizabeth Flint who has served as the Youth Program Coordinator for TNOYS since 2011. She talks about the organization’s mission and how they include the youth and family voice in services through employing people like LaQuinton. She goes on to describe benefits like a feedback loop for programs and giving credibility to support for other youth.

In 2014, the Hogg foundation awarded nine grants totaling roughly $10 million to identify and address the mental health needs of transition-age youths and their families in the Houston/Harris County area. Read more about our work and grantees, including a coordinator grant to the Texas Network of Youth Services.

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