Warwick resident and business owner June Langevin, the mother of Congressman Jim Langevin, fondly remembers the first of 20 foster children they brought into their home more than 30 years ago.
At the time, the Congressman was in high school when a close friend was kicked out of her home. Wanting to help, he asked his parents if the girl could live with them and his three siblings.
“I had four of my own and I figured, ‘What’s one more? We have an extra bedroom so she can come stay with us until she can get her life straightened out a bit,’” June said. “She was 16 or 17 and stayed with us until she graduated high school. That’s really how it started.”
June and her late husband, Richard, fostered 20 youth during a 25-year time period. This fact recently earned June a foster parent award from the Rhode Island Department of Children, Youth and Families, or DCYF.
June and her children keep in touch with the foster children that lived with them and June said the last child she hosted more than five years ago visited her the weekend before Christmas.
Yet, there is one child June hasn’t seen in years. He came to her home the same evening she was asked to care for him with a trash bag of items. Thinking the bag contained clothes, she told him to take a shower after she fed him dinner and instructed him to put on a clean shirt and pair of pants.
“He said, ‘I don’t have any,’ so I asked him what was in the bag,” she said. “He had a paper hat and a paper sword. Those were his treasures. I would love to get in touch with him. He’d be in his 30s now.”
While June no longer takes in foster children because she spends most winters in Florida and owns the Pilgrim Dollar Store at 1153 Warwick Avenue, she encourages others to consider being a foster parent. She said it’s a “worthwhile” experience.
“There are so many kids out there from disrupted families and for them to get the opportunity to share a new lifestyle with a family is wonderful,” said June.
June also said keeping in mind the fact that it’s temporary is a vital part of the process. Friends have often asked her how she is able to withstand the separation after the child is given back to their parents.
“Some people can’t do it because they get too attached but I told myself, ‘I’m helping them one step at a time and getting them further in life,’” she said. “I could have said, ‘It’s going to hurt so much when they leave,’ but you deal with it. You have to set yourself up for it physiologically.”
Lisa Guillette, the Executive Director of the Rhode Island Foster Parent Association, or RIFPA, agreed. But, she also said it can be beneficial for foster parents to be open to the idea of adoption, as 80 percent of adoptions are made by foster parents.
Unfortunately, older children run the risk of ageing out of the system, meaning they won’t achieve permanency before they turn 18. These youths often experience identity theft, as their personal information is passed around often.
To assist them, Congressman Langevin met with top foster care advocates for Rhode Island’s foster youth at the Warwick Skills and Youth Center at the Buttonwoods Community Center during the summer of last year for a roundtable discussion about the future of foster care and ways the state can take the lead in reforming the system.
In attendance was Guillette, as well as other RIFPA representatives; DCYF; The Voice Youth Advisory Board; the Rhode Island KIDS COUNT, Adoption Rhode Island; and the Rhode Island Foundation. They talked about research that shows current and former foster youth are more likely to pass up higher education, be in poor health, become homeless, and rely on public supports as adults. They also discussed ways to improve the situation.
As a result of the meeting, Langevin worked with California Congressman Pete Stark, a member of the Ways and Means Committee responsible for the Child and Family Services Improvement and Innovation Act, and included a provision in the bill that mandates free credit checks for foster youth 16 years of age and older before they age out of the system and requires they receive assistance in clearing inaccuracies from their records, as current practices put them at high risk for having their personal information, including Social Security numbers and birth certificates, being stolen. The broader legislation aims to end the use of the Social Security number as a means to identify foster children.
“I think it’s one of the best things he could do,” June said of the legislation. “He saw what happened with the kids that stayed with us and the kids need that type of help.”
Guillette also commended Langevin’s efforts by saying, “The congressman’s support has been exceptional.”
To further aid foster youths aging out of the system, RIFPA operates ASPIRE, a program that helps 14 to 24 year olds currently and formerly in foster care open bank accounts and teaches them financial literacy. An account is opened in their name and seeded with $100.
From there, the program, which receives funding from DCYF and United Way Rhode Island, match their savings dollar for dollar up to $1,000 per year towards the purchase of durable assets. Since 2005, Guillette said, youths have saved and matched more than a half a million dollars.
“We survey the participants two times a year and ask questions about their housing and job stability and we’re seeing that the participants are doing better in all of life’s domains,” said Guillette. “These kids are buying cars, paying college expenses, medical expenses and three even purchased their own home. But a good program is never a substitute for a loving family and we need both. We always need people to become foster parents.”
Langevin said while there are “angels” who take in these children, there are many youths who do not receive the kind of care and commitment they deserve. He encouraged more people to become foster parents and is confident children will end up in good homes. The people who open their homes and hearts, he said, motivate him to fight for their rights.
“I am continuously impressed by the selfless acts of so many Rhode Islanders to make that opportunity a reality for others,” said Langevin. “I remain driven to give every foster youth the chance they deserve to become everything they aspire to be.”
If interested in becoming a foster parent, Guillette said to call Foster Parent Recruiter Robin Perez at 401-528-3700 or visit rifpa.org.
“It’s a very rewarding thing to do,” said June. “If you’re thinking about it just take the plunge and do it.”