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Foster-care teens voice frustrations

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Nineteen-year-old Saulesa said being in the state's foster-care system can make a young person feel judged and discriminated against by just about everybody.

Talia, 17, worries about saving money for the day when she'll no longer be in the state's care. D.J., 18, said there needs to be a way to help foster kids get drivers' licenses despite the insurance liability issues involved.

The three voiced those concerns as members of youth panel at the recent "Transitions to Adult Living Seminar," which attracted some 200 representatives of government agencies, private organizations and the foster-care community.

The seminar is part of an effort to develop a statewide support network for foster-care kids making the transition to adult life. The goal is to put in place resources over the next three years to help them with everything from managing finances to building self-esteem.

The panelists raised not only their own concerns but also those identified at a June summit for youths in the foster-care system. Practical issues like finding jobs were high on the list. So were the frustrations of being in state care, such as being introduced as a family's "foster child" or hearing biological parents criticized.

Saulesa suggested a solution to the feelings of being judged and discriminated against might be a statewide awareness campaign to promote a better understanding of what it means to be in foster care.

The youngest member of the panel, 15-year-old Jennifer, said she has concerns about being on her own. "There's just a lot of temptations," she said. "I've avoided a lot of them, but they're still there."

Jennifer said she depends on her caseworker to get her through the difficult times. "I can talk to her about anything," she said. "I feel like she's there to help me out, not to just do her job."

Talia said she can turn to her foster family for support. "They are there for me," she said.

That wasn't the case with a previous family, however. "I was in a foster home a year ago that was really difficult," Talia said. "There were kids who were really rude to me, who said, 'This is our house, you do what we say.' "

Another member of the panel, Vanessa, 17, said her goal is to leave the Ute Indian Reservation and teach snowboarding in Colorado. "I want to go away from everyone and be on my own and see if I can be independent," she said. "I just want to see what the world is."

He Utah Attorney General Mark Shurtleff called for the involvement of the business community and others in mentoring programs. "We can go and build a lot on this."

E-mail: lisa@desnews.com