“Unidentified: How Kids Can Age Out Of Texas Foster Care Without Documentation” is a series of reports from Texas Standard about the lack of needed identification documents among Texas foster youth.
In “Unidentified,” one foster mom described the crucial role played by her children’s attorney ad litem in getting their documentation. That attorney ad litem no longer works in that role. Maya Guerra Gamble is now a judge on the 459th Civil District Court in Travis County. She says persistence was a key ingredient in her success representing foster youth.
“Some of the documents, like a birth certificate, can be very hard to come by,” Guerra Gamble says. “When children show up, their parents may not have any of their documentation.”
These documents might not have been needed as a young person moved through the child protective services system, and so they might not have been acquired before he or she left the system. Many foster children also move frequently. Also, the child’s caseworker can play an important role.
“Some caseworkers are better at getting documents than others,” Guerra Gamble says. “Some have higher caseloads, some lower. Some are more diligent; [they] understand the necessity better than others.”
Despite the issues involved in individual cases, the state Department of Family and Protective Services is required to provide identification documents to foster youth when they reach 16 years of age. In a statement, DFPS told Texas Standard that a foster youth who ages out of the system can request those documents at any time.
“Children who age out of care are not well-equipped to advocate for themselves,” Guerra Gamble says. “It’s a lot of steps for a kid.”
She says those who leave the system without documents often have not graduated from high school, or they may be living with an original family that is not equipped to help with acquiring documents.
Having the identification makes it possible for a young person to take the next steps toward life as an adult; buying a car, joining the military, getting a job or renting an apartment all require proof of identity.
“There are a lot of things that a person needs to be able to do for themselves as an adult that are essentially impossible without identification,” Guerra Gamble says.
Guerra Gamble says one way individuals who are concerned about whether foster youth have documentation can help is to become a foster parent.
“There is a great need for foster parents who truly want to temporarily help out children and families in need, and make them stronger, who aren’t necessarily looking to change their own family makeup.”
Written by Shelly Brisbin.