Aged Out: A note about Aged Out series from Denver Post reporter Jennifer Brown

Photo by Joe Amon, The Denver Post
Sarah Janeczko, 20, looks out at cars parked along Federal Boulevard in Denver during Cinco de Mayo on May 5, 2017. She entered the foster care system at the age of 12 after her mother killed herself, and lived in six foster homes before leaving the system when she was 18.

May 9, 2018 I By Jennifer Brown
Denver Post 

This project began years ago with a phone call from a reader who knew an 18-year-old I had written about, a young man who had grown up in foster care.

The reader wondered if I could help him find a bed, or even just a mattress, to save him from sleeping on the hard floor of his rented bedroom every night after work and school.

I had interviewed the young man for a Denver Post series about the overmedication of foster kids, describing how teenagers lined up in group homes and treatment centers for their daily doses of psychotropic drugs. Several of the young adults I talked to had recently left the foster care system after turning 18, no longer wards of the state and free to talk to a newspaper reporter.

What has stuck with me for years was how alone in the world they were. We had spent years writing about the child welfare system, including a 2012 series called Failed to Death, but we had not looked into what happened to kids who never returned home and were not adopted.

For this new series, Aged Out, I started my reporting by visiting Mile High United Way and Urban Peak, organizations that help former foster youths who have emancipated from the system. Fat snowflakes were falling when I went to United Way on the one day a month aged-out foster kids can put their names on a list for federal housing vouchers.

That’s where I met Sarah Janeczko. She had gotten a ride from a county worker whose job is to help aged-out foster youths with housing, education and life in general. We talked briefly that day, and then many more times, usually in her back yard or at her kitchen table, over the course of several months.

Through contacts at Urban Peak, where more than one-third of homeless youth come from foster care, the state Division of Child Welfare, and Rocky Mountain Children’s Law Center, I met dozens of former foster kids who recently emancipated from the system.

They shared their stories because they want the system to change. To a number, they spoke of standing up for the foster kids who are coming after them, the ones who will age out without finding permanent homes.

All of them, too, spoke of not feeling heard, of spending their childhoods wishing someone would listen.

During one interview, I told Sarah that her words were powerful, that they could make a difference. “That’s cool to hear,” she said. “My whole life it has felt like they don’t.”

This article is part of a four-part series on young people in Colorado who "aged out" of foster care. It was republished with the permission of the Denver Post. Read the entire Aged Out series beginning with the first article "Alone in the world: Foster kids in Colorado leave system with no home, no family, little support"and watch a moving video with Sarah Janeczko HERE.

Reporter Jennifer Brown and photographer Joe Amon spent a year documenting the plight of youths who leave the foster care system. 
Save the date for a Facebook Live conversation on CO4kids with Jennifer Brown about the series and her expereinces covering child welfare in Colorado on May 24th at noon.  

Jennifer Brown

Jennifer Brown is an investigative reporter for The Denver Post, where she has worked since 2005. She has written about the child welfare system, mental health, education and politics. She previously worked for The Associated Press, The Tyler Morning Telegraph in Texas, and the Hungry Horse News in Montana.

 Follow Jennifer Brown @jbrownDPost

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