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North Carolina Foster Youth Team Up With Local Child Welfare System to Improve Foster Care for Teens

bildeFour current and former foster youth are teaming up with North Carolina’s Brunswick County Department of Social Services (DSS) to make foster care a better place for teens. The group is forming a local chapter of Strong Able Youth Speaking Out (SaySo), a foster care advocacy group that also functions as a support network. Star News Onlinereports:

In creating the chapter, the four hope to build a support group and empower teens like them. Once the chapter is established, the SaySo group will also help the social services department tailor its service to similar teens.

“We want to gain support for our group,” Kalyn DenBleyker, 21, says.

The relationship between SaySo and DSS is off to a good start and there is hope for positive change:

“This will help us here do a better job for our foster kids,” said Patricia Connelly, DSS director. “They are living this. We want to listen to them and see what things are important to them. We hope it will influence how we are serving our older youth in the county.

Despite the various challenges of going through foster care, the SaySo members have found needed support in one another:

“Everyone here has gone through the same thing, and we listen to each other’s testimonials,” said Dustin Polletta, 18. “There isn’t any judgment.”

“It really gives you a different perspective,” said 15-year-old Sarah McClelland.

And having the support of each other comes in handy, said 18-year-old Shane Polletta, Dustin’s twin brother.

“We are basically family,” he said.

The group has fostered a sense of family that has helped them set their eyes toward a happy future. While many of the statistics on youth exiting foster care paint a bleak picture, this group is focused on beating the odds:

“Sometimes we feel that it (being displaced from home) is our fault, so we try to find other ways to feel better, like gangs,” Shane Polletta said. “But this has shown us there is a better life.”

Both Polletta brothers hope to someday join the U.S. Marine Corps. Shane also hopes to play football in college, while Dustin wants to become a police officer. McClelland and DenBleyker said they want to get their bachelor’s degrees.

“This shows us we can use our voice, and that we have rights,” DenBleyker said. “We are not alone.”