By Gregg Bragg, The Island Connection Sr. Staff Writer
There are alarming statistics associated with foster care that you don’t often hear much about.
For example, according to the Carolina Youth Development Center;
- One in 5 kids from foster care backgrounds will be homeless by age 19.
- One in 4 children will have a brush with the legal system within two years of leaving foster care.
- Seven of 10 girls in the foster care system are pregnant by age 21.
- Only 2% of kids from foster care will earn a college degree.
But the CYDC thinks it has a solution.
CYDC was originally founded in 1790 at the corner of Calhoun and St. Phillip streets as the Charleston Orphan House. The first municipal orphanage in the country, it pioneered a kindergarten program to augment its early efforts to develop a system of foster families. The Orphan House was quite the spectacle of progress in the 18th century, and it was celebrated by an array of visiting dignitaries, including George Washington, Gen. Pierre de Beauregard, Robert E. Lee, James Monroe, Grover Cleveland and William Howard Taft. The Charleston Orphan House boasted an enrollment of 334 children at the close of the Civil War.
The Orphan House purchased North Charleston’s 37-acre Oak Grove Plantation in 1951 and changed its name to the Carolina Youth Development Center. It continued to operate under the authority of the city of Charleston until morphing into a registered nonprofit in 1978, when the Callen-Lacey Center for Children in Berkeley County was added. The two campuses leverage their combined knowledge and resources to assist 900 children and families each year.
“We are working to change the landscape of group care in South Carolina,” said Katy Calloway, CYDC’s vice president of advancement. “Our kids are here not because of choices they made but because of the choices their guardians made. CYDC wants to give them the childhood they’re entitled to, with opportunities to learn and grow in a loving, nurturing environment.”
“It hasn’t always been an easy path. Numerous programs have come and gone over the nearly 230 years of CYDC’s existence,” Calloway added. “Teenagers today are faced with totally different challenges than when I was growing up. Add to that the trauma of abuse and neglect that CYDC kids have suffered, and the mission becomes healing as much as growing.”
CYDC will open a family program center this fall that will address the healing that needs to take place to return kids to their families and provide parents with counseling and workshops to learn coping skills.
“Our family-based prevention services will help keep kids from coming to CYDC in the first place. The ultimate goal is to have healthy families and communities, so we are addressing that in a proactive way,” said Calloway.
CYDC’s mission has evolved over time, as an excerpt from its website suggests: “Carolina Youth Development Center’s mission is to empower and equip our community’s most vulnerable children by providing a safe environment, educational support and career readiness in collaboration with families and community partners. Our vision is that all children have loving and stable families and a nurturing community that empowers them to lead successful lives.”
CYDC works with an array of partners to help realize its vision, including The South Carolina Department of Social Services; The Leon Levine Foundation; and Children’s Trust of South Carolina.
Corporate partners such as Cummins, Trident Technical College and Carolina Studios work together to educate and prepare CYDC’s charges to beat the odds.
There are plenty of ways you can help. Donations are essential, and volunteers are always welcome. The organization’s two annual fundraisers include a gala in September and a golf tournament, scheduled for April 2020 at Bull’s Bay Country Club.
CYDC also maintains a registry on Amazon, at Amazon.com/hz/wishlist/ ls/3JGCR0NEHWC2N?ref_=wl_share, where you can anonymously provide specifically-requested items while you are shopping online.
“Kids often arrive at CYDC in the middle of the night with nothing but the clothes on their back,” said Calloway. “The favorite blanket or toy doesn’t usually get to come, so we try to provide them with the few comforts they may have had at home.”