Nonprofit fills in gap for aged out foster youth

BY Leah Mishkin, Correspondent |

Tanisha Warmack’s mom was her best friend. Her foster family felt like strangers. That was the way it was for Tanisha until she aged out of the foster care system recently when she turned 21.

“My mom passed away when I was eight, so my brother and I, we’ve been in foster homes since then. There was a lot of physical, mental and psychological abuse. I had to become a woman before I could ever finish being a child,” said Tanisha. “I guess the one thing that kind of helped me persevere was writing and music.”

Her case worker helped her find the organization called Roots and Wings.

“Roots and Wings serves aged-out foster youth in the state of New Jersey, so it’s kids who are 18 to 24 who were never permanently adopted,” said Executive Director Emily Marchese.

According to the New Jersey Child Placement Advisory Council, over 300 youth aged out of the foster care system in 2016. But Roots and Wings says that number almost certainly understates the problem because former foster youth who return home or get adopted before they’re 18 may still find themselves in need of help when they become adults.

“Most of the kids don’t have their high school diploma, so they come to us homeless often times, sleeping on park benches or couch surfing with friends. They’ve experienced a great deal of trauma either through the foster care system experience or through their biological families, but they’re very resilient,” said Marchese.

“I wasn’t doing so well, actually. When I came here, I was on my way to homelessness because my father wasn’t doing so well. I couldn’t really go to him, my mother moved to Texas, so it was kind of like I was alone,” said Robert Brown, who was placed into foster care in his teens.

Brown, who is now 22, says he’s now in school and his dreams of becoming a lawyer are getting closer. For the first time he feels hopeful.

“Usually, we’re at points in our lives, like ‘Oh, this is going to stop when it’s over,’ and I don’t know what I’m going to do after that. You know what you’re going to do after here. You know where you’re going and that is the brilliance. With a car even, they help almost any aspect you can think of,” Brown said.

That’s something he says he’s not used to feeling. Brown sat down with his case manager. When he left to go to school, she went downstairs with him to make sure he got into his car alright. It was the same attention to detail in the office.

When Emily and Tanisha were in the food pantry, she asked if there was anything she needed and was ready to pack a bag, making sure she picked the hot chocolate she liked without the marshmallows. That attention to detail isn’t lost on Tanisha.

“I honestly never thought that I would be happy, but they’ve made all that possible for me,” she said.