More than a statistic

Hardship drove senior Htet Htet Rodgers to success

 

Orleans Parish Juvenile Court Judge Ernestine S. Gray and Joy M. Bruce, executive director of CASA New Orleans, co-authored an editorial in 2016 stating that nationally one of the fastest-growing groups of children entering foster care has been those aged 14 to 17.

National statistics show that, without support, these children are three times more likely than the general population to not earn a high school diploma or GED. 7 percent earn college degrees by age 26, compared to 33 percent of the general population.

Within a year of exiting care, one in five is homeless. Within two years, one in four is incarcerated. And the rate of post-traumatic stress disorder is 21.5 percent – five times higher than average, higher even than that of American war veterans. About half are unemployed.

A senior psychology major at NSU, Htet Htet Rodgers entered foster care at age 13 and has since refused to be a statistic; she has used her experience in the system to make the lives of those still living in the foster care system better on a state and national level.

“In that time, I’ve only had one placement, and that person became my forever family. She still supports me to this day like a parent should,” Rodgers says. “It’s very unusual to have one placement. I’ve always been classified as a poster child by the state.”

Relatively new to competing in pageants, Htet Htet Rodgers will represent CenLA in the 2018 Miss Louisiana Pageant this summer.  Photo by Trace Constant

 

When asked if Rodgers felt she had been prepared for adulthood, she gave an emphatic “Oh, heck no.”

“I give credit to my foster mom for motivating everything,” she says. “I wanted to do something and give back … and that’s what drove me.”

Rodgers says a one-placement foster family like she experienced was far from the norm in most foster children’s experiences with the system.

“I know one person who went through 64 placements in three different states,” she says.

“If a kid had serious trauma in life and had been abused in every imaginable way, they can have a lot of mental and emotional issues,” Rodgers says. “If someone isn’t well equipped to adhere to their emotional, physical and mental needs, they’re not going to be the best person for that kid.”

As Rodgers strives to become one of the 7 percent of foster kids who obtain college degrees, she has also become a spokesperson for foster kids on a national platform in Washington D.C. Rodgers joined the National Foster Youth Institute, a non-profit organization, to make a difference in the lives of foster youth and families across America.

As a foster youth intern of the Congressional Coalition on Adoption Institute, Rodgers traveled to Washington D.C., crafted a policy recommendation and called for the creation of a “national foster youth taxonomy” to ensure accurate and seamless extraction of data and records.

This policy would prevent a youth’s records from mix-ups caused by discrepancies between some states or counties using “family name” and another using “surname.”

Another potential gain would be to prevent foster children from being held back in school when they are relocated and have issues enrolling. This is exceptionally troublesome when you consider students are on a timeline, and foster children can age out of the system without a high school diploma.

“It’s something we really need to look at, and there’s a lot of data we don’t collect that’d be resourceful for the other services,” Rodgers says.

 

 

In 2016, Rodgers attended the first-ever White House Hackathon, a program to encourage technology use and improve outcomes for youth in the foster system.

She has also worked with Microsoft to develop an app that would have helped provide mothers in dangerous situations with confidential assistance. Unfortunately, the project didn’t have enough funding to complete development.

Now Miss CenLA, Rodgers will compete for the crown at the Miss Louisiana Pageant this June in her first attempt at pageants.

“It’s more than wearing a crown,” she says. “There’s this motto we go by: service, scholarship, style and success. In all of those, I see something I’ve lived by my whole life.”

Brian Jordan

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