Social services representatives brainstormed ways yesterday to help youth forced to leave the state foster care system due to age — in hopes of heading off another suicide of a former foster child such as Erwin Viado Celes.
On Sept. 7, Celes, a foster child from age 6 until his 19th birthday in March, was found hanging from a ceiling beam at his mother’s workplace. According to an autopsy report, Celes said he wanted to kill himself after his ex-girlfriend committed suicide by hanging a few weeks earlier.
More than 75 people from groups and agencies including representatives from the state Department of Human Services and foster youth advocates provided recommendations at a packed briefing yesterday at the state Capitol held by Rep. John Mizuno, chairman of the House Human Services Committee.
During the meeting, attendees voted on the top five recommendations to improve the system:
» Provide all foster youth who age out of the system with Medicaid coverage with automatic enrollment and re-enrollment until age 21, and coordinate support for medical coverage after age 21.
» Increase the monthly foster board payment and higher-education payments.
» Provide safe, affordable housing options for transitioning foster youth.
» Provide scholarships and education support within the community and state college system for all transitioning foster youth.
» Support each transitioning youth to establish a caring, lifelong relationship with an adult.
About a dozen of Celes’ friends appeared at the briefing wearing black T-shirts emblazoned with a photo of him.
Friends described him as someone who would go out of his way to cheer up a friend when they were feeling down.
"He would help put a smile on our face," said Thom Taan. "He likes to tell jokes, make people laugh.
"He’s a really cool guy. I wish he was still here," he said.
John Walters, program development administrator for Child Protective Services, said, "It’s always good for us when we can have a dialogue, when we can look at things. We’re about improvement. These things help us improve."