Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

Facing Reality, Ready or Not

Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

Facing Reality, Ready or Not

Article excerpt

WEDNESDAY IS a day that "Sherry" has been dreading for half a decade. It's the day she becomes legally emancipated from state custody.

Sherry, 18, found out on Oct. 11 that she had seven weeks to figure out how to make it on her own. For the previous five years, every important decision about her life - where she would live, where she would go to school, whether she would get braces on her teeth - has been made by a judge or a state caseworker.

Under Missouri law, the judge could have given Sherry more time in state custody to participate in an "independent living" program, which would have helped her make the transition from living in a children's home to living on her own. Instead, he cut her loose.

"The judge basically said I'd been living off the state's dough for long enough and it was time for me to be out on my own," Sherry said in a recent interview. "It hit me all of a sudden that I had nowhere to go. I bawled my head off."

Sherry is in state custody through no fault of her own. She's not a criminal, or even a delinquent.

"I've never been in any kind of trouble," she said. "I've never stolen anything, and I've never taken a drug. There aren't many kids my age who can say all that."

Sherry is in state custody because her stepfather sexually abused her when she was 13. After six months, she finally summoned up the courage to tell a teacher. That same day she was placed in state custody. She hasn't seen her stepfather since. She sees her mother about once a year.

"She sided with him," Sherry said. "She doesn't believe it happened."

The first few years in state custody were hard, Sherry said. She first lived with an aunt, and then with a foster family. After six months the state sent her to live with her biological father, who'd had little to do with her since she was a newborn. Sherry felt unwelcome in his household and ran away after five months.

Just 14 then, she bounced around St. Louis for two months. "Then I got tired of running," she said.

After she came in from the cold, Sherry was sent to a small girls' home in a rural county, where she finally found a home.

"When I first came here I had essentially been living on the streets," she said. …

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