Caught in the System: Juan

Kicked to the Curb

"I was 3 years old when I entered the foster system. My parents weren't providing food. They weren't watching me. I lived in about 15 foster homes between ages 3 to 12," says 18-year-old Juan. "I was treated as just a paycheck. I had a lot of bad experiences. I felt like I didn't belong there. I felt like I was nothing and no one cared about me.

"I remember eating some really bad food. It was really rotten. They were supposed to take us shopping every month. We would get $50 every month. Two weeks from the day your clothes are bought, they would return to the store and get money back, and just keep the receipt and show it to the social worker," Juan recalls. "I had a lot of anger in me and started being violent. What's the use of being good if you're always going to be in a bad situation no matter what you do?"

"It's their responsibility to provide them with a safe place to live, a place that is family-like, where he can grow and develop as a child," says civil rights attorney and child advocate L. Wallace Pate. "None of that happened for Juan. That is not his story."

[AD]Juan aged out of the system less than a year ago. He has no job or proper identification. If things don't change, he may become homeless. "When I started looking for a job, I realized that the employers were asking for I.D. I have a social security card, but not a birth certificate," he says. 

 

"When I heard his story, it was just unbelievable to me," says Ms. Pate. "Here was this child who was in the system for most of his life. When the system was finished with him, he was kicked to the curb without any identification."

Juan walks through a playground. "For a good four months, I was homeless. I would sleep on a bench like this made of wood," he says. "Bad memories. Bad memories."

Dr. Phil cites a sobering statistic. "Nationwide, 24 to 50 percent of former foster care probation youth become homeless within 18 months of leaving the system," he says.

He addresses Juan. "You have no way of getting a job, because you don't have any identifying information, true?" he asks.

"Yeah," he replies. "I went to two different places: Norwalk Hall of Records, the Los Angeles Hall of Records and also the one in Sacramento. They told me I had no records with them. I didn't exist."

"So you're not in the computer," Dr. Phil observes. "So what's your plan? What's your future?"

[AD]"I want to go to the military. I want to go to college. I want to have my own place to call home."

"You can't even join the military, because they don't know who you are," Dr. Phil says.

He turns to Ms. Pate. "It's a bad case in a bad system, true?" he asks.

"He's just the tip of the iceberg. After I found out about Juan, I also discovered he's not the only one. There are other children, a lot of other children, who don't have their birth certificates. Some of them are living on Skid Row," the lawyer replies.

Dr. Phil has some good news for Juan. "We have been working with the Office of Vital Records. We have a contact there that we have made eye contact with that has assured us that they are expediting your request," he announces. "We feel like we're going to be able to get you a birth certificate within five weeks."

[AD]And that's not all. Renowned headhunter Tony Beshara has agreed to work with Juan to get him a job. Plus, the Los Angeles office of CASA will arrange for the young man to meet with a college counselor and create a secondary education plan for him. In preparation for a job, JCPenney will give Juan a $1,000 gift card for a new wardrobe. Last but not least, Dr. Phil spies learned that Juan is a huge Lakers fan, but has never attended a game. The teen and three of his friends will not only go to a game, but Juan receives a Jersey autographed by Lamar Odom and a basketball signed by Lakers coach Phil Jackson.

"Thank you," Juan says with a smile.