College gives hope to children exiting foster care

Veronica Lockett, ACC student

Foster care alumna Veronica Lockett and her daughter, Raney, visit the Rio Grande Campus.

When the “Survivor Independence ACTS 2007” conference is held at Austin Community College’s Eastview Campus on July 28, Veronica Lockett and Trista Miller will be there. But they won’t just be volunteering their time and services.

The ACTS – After Care Transitional Service – conference is of particular significance to the women. They both spent parts of their lives in foster care.

Lockett, 25, was 8 years old when Child Protective Services (CPS) came to her home and split up five of her brothers and sisters – two children in three different homes. Her two oldest siblings had already run away. Originally placed with her younger brother, Lockett lived with several foster families before ending up in a home by herself during her last three years of placement. During that time CPS gave her some good news – foster care children could attend college for free.

ACC student Trista Miller

Foster care alumna Trista Miller.

Lockett began taking classes at ACC in 1999. “Going to college was my way of knowing I would have somewhere to go once I left foster care,” she said. Law requires foster children to leave placement after their 18th birthday.

Miller’s situation was a little different. Her “symbolic” parents – those who are not blood-related but take on a parental role – helped care for her since birth. When Miller, now 22, was placed in foster care a week before her 12th birthday, her symbolic parents began going through the process to become licensed foster parents. They moved to Nevada where, Miller says, “I got myself into some trouble.” When she was 14, she came back to Texas and lived in a group home.

Living in the group home was one reason Miller chose to take classes at ACC. “I did not want to live in a dorm,” she said. “I did not want to live with someone I didn’t choose to live with.”

Another reason she likes ACC is its flexible class schedule, and Lockett feels the same way. Taking college classes when you have a toddler to care for is not always an easy task, yet her ACC professors were accommodating, Lockett said.

“It was really helpful for me to have someone who was empathetic to my situation, instead of penalizing me for it,” she said.

Lockett is currently taking biology and Spanish classes during ACC’s summer session, while working toward a bachelor’s degree in social work at Texas State University-San Marcos. Miller is pursuing her associate degree in criminal justice at ACC.

Both will attend the ACTS conference later this month, though in different capacities. Lockett, along with other former foster care children, is starting a nonprofit called Foster Care Alumni of Austin. Miller, who works as a youth specialist for the state of Texas, serves as one of the state representatives for the conference and is helping to create ACC’s Foster Care Alumni website. She also is part of the planning committee for the conference, which caters to foster care children and their caregivers by offering sessions on career planning, financial aid, and more.

The Survivor Independence ACTS 2007 Conference is sponsored by Austin Community College’s Foster Care Alumni Program, LifeWorks, Casey Family Programs, and Preparation for Adult Living (PAL). It will be Saturday, July 28, from 9 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. at ACC’s Eastview Campus, 3401 Webberville Road, Room 8500. For more information or to register, email LifeWorks’ Leslie Gainesor call her at (512) 735.2421.

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