After aging out of foster system, some teens' troubles are just beginning

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by JANET ST. JAMES

WFAA

Posted on September 5, 2013 at 10:31 PM

Updated Friday, Sep 6 at 4:55 PM

DALLAS -- When many high school students are fighting for Independence, Seth Miller seemingly has it all.

He wears what he wants, eats when he wants to, has complete Independence, and an apartment of his own.

But Seth would trade it in a second for one thing.

"One family," he said. "Even if I had to live in a box -- family."

When Seth was a baby, he was adopted into a large family. The adoption lasted until he was seven, when abuse allegations split up the children.

He remembers what his adoptive mother told him on his last afternoon at home.

"'You're just going to spend the night, but you'll be back tomorrow,'" Seth recalled. "Sometimes I question why she didn't tell me the truth."

In the coming years, Seth would live with five other foster families, never feeling part of any of them. Neglect was part of his foster life, he says. Distrust of people and anger at the world grew.

"You were just a number," Seth said stoically.

At 18, Seth became a legal adult and aged out of the foster care system. He left his last foster family in an attempt to find happiness.

About 1,500 Texas teens age out of the foster care system annually, with few resources to help them survive the adult world. Many struggle with unemployment and crime. Nearly half, according to some research, become homeless.

A few weeks ago, Seth was living in his car.

"I remember one night, I did fall asleep and woke up the next morning and I was like this," Seth said, leaning on his steering wheel, "and my neck kind of hurt. I never imagined living like that."

"He called and told me he was homeless," said Virginia Barrett, a Court Appointed Special Advocate, or CASA.

Unlike state case workers, CASA's are volunteers charged with protecting the best interests of a single child. There are not enough CASA volunteers for every foster child in North Texas.

Barrett has been Seth's CASA since he was seven. When the state assistance stopped, this volunteer has kept helping the angry, abandoned young man.

She gathered donations and helped Seth rent an apartment so he could finish his senior year of high school.

"My goal is to make it better," Barrett said. "That's what we're working on."

She's trying to get Seth into a supervised independent living program to help him meet his monthly financial needs so he can concentrate on graduating.

Seth has biological siblings he has never met, and never knew existed until a few months ago. For now, Virginia is his only family.

Seth also works full-time at McDonalds. He is determined he will not fail himself.

He believes the system, overloaded with too many foster children, too many unqualified foster families, and too few case workers, let him down.

"I know I'm tough because I went through a lot," he said. "And I'm going to make it. Because I have to. That's all I have. That's the only choice I have."

Seth would like people to take notice of what he calls a broken system, to protect other vulnerable children who grow up in foster care.

He hopes other foster teens will see him now and know they are a number.

Number one.

E-mail jstjames@wfaa.com

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