Youth Voice Mini-series: Part 3

Join Mercedes and Hailey in this third and final episode as they share their experiences in the VT DCF child welfare system with host, Kate Cunningham.  Using the list of hopes and aspirations for any youth in state’s care that the St. Joseph’s Orphanage survivors created in 2020, we discuss the importance of youth having access to their information, as well as, being a part of their own plan.

Show Notes and Resources:

Hopes and aspiration for children in state care:

St. Joseph’s Orphanage Restorative Justice:

Youth Development Program:

Host Info: 

Kate Cunningham, MS, is a training & coaching specialist with the Vermont Child Welfare Training Partnership. Kate is a VT licensed School Counselor and National Board-Certified Health and Wellness Coach who started her career in child welfare in 2005 as a Family Engagement Specialist with Easter Seals. In this role, she focused on working with kin and adoptive families to support the youth in their care, as well as, facilitating Family Safety Planning Meetings and coordinating Family Group Conferences. She also supervised Family Time Coaches before becoming an assessment and investigation worker in the Burlington DCF office. This DCF role was not long lived though, because when the opportunity arose to support the DCF workforce and promote growing their practices, Kate took it and joined the Child Welfare Training Partnership (CWTP) in 2012. In her eleven years at CWTP Kate has worked with and supported countless FSD workers and leaders and has training expertise in all phases of child welfare work and workforce support.


Mercedes (00:00):

I’ve never really seen a child and like a young adult in, in the system who has had malicious intent just to be malicious. It’s because they haven’t been given something that they’ve needed. And yeah, just be loving and kind and gentle and realize that we’re also humans.

Cassie Gillespie (00:25):

Hello, I’m Cassie Gillespie and you’re listening to the Social Work Lens, a podcast produced by the University of Vermont’s Child Welfare Training partnership and the State of Vermont. Today we are bringing you the third episode in a three part mini series focusing on the experience of youth in Vermont’s foster care system. And if you missed episodes one or two, now would be a great time to go back and listen to them. Before we jump into today’s episode, Kate Cunningham is here in the studio with us to share a little context about what you are about to hear. So I’ll pass it to her. Hi Kate.

Kate Cunningham (00:58):

Hi, Cassie. I think it’s great to give a little context for these episodes. Back in the fall of 2021, CWTP worked with the St. Joseph’s Orphanage Restorative Inquiry, and we did a listening session, which involved DCF workers and other survivors from the St. Joseph’s Orphanage, where we heard stories of the experiences of the St. Joseph’s orphanage survivors. They also had written a hopes and aspirations list, which we pull from in all three of these episodes for youth who are in states care. As many of the survivors had been in states care many years ago, one thing that we learned with the St. Joseph’s orphanage survivors was that telling their stories brought a lot of meaning to their experiences and helped build resiliency and healing. What we hear in the podcast here with these two youth, Mercedes and Hailey, is their own experiences and their own storytelling of what happened to them while they were in states custody.

Kate Cunningham (02:07):

The stories are raw. They’re honest, they come from their heart. These two young women didn’t know each other before coming in and doing the podcasts. And you hear throughout the three episodes that they just get to know each other and feed off of each other and realize the commonalities that they have and the experiences that they shared. Some of these experiences are hard to hear. They talk about being in different foster homes in different residential centers, times that they had when they ran, experiences they’ve had afterwards. So do what you feel necessary as you are listening to take care of yourself, to process afterwards, and to really kind of let settle in what these two amazing, resilient women talk about, and we hope that you enjoy and learn something. So this is episode three of our three part series of speaking with youth and getting youth perspective. And I am sitting here again with Haliey and Mercedes two youth who are no longer in the foster care system, but have been in their past. So welcome again, Hailey and Mercedes.

Mercedes (03:29):

Hi. I’m Mercedes. I was in the foster care system from the ages of 7 to 10, and then again from 13 to 18.

Hailey (03:38):

Hi, I’m Hailey. I was in the foster care system from 11 to a week before I turned 16.

Kate Cunningham (03:45):

Thank you. It is so great to see you both here again. And in this third part, just as a reminder or someone who hasn’t listened to the, to the previous two, we are going through a list of hopes and aspirations for youth in state’s care that were written in 2020 by the St. Joseph’s Orphanage survivors. It was a restorative process and the group was called The Voices of St. Joseph’s Orphanage. And they came up with a list of six hopes and aspirations. In the first episode, we looked at the two that really related to youth and the relationship with their DCF worker and being heard and being attended to. In the second episode, we looked more at alternative caregivers with advice about foster families and residential programs and how to best meet youth’s needs.

Kate Cunningham (04:40):

And in this last one, I’m gonna read the last two hopes and aspirations. And it really has to do with access to youth information. And that’s at all times when youth are in care, kind of having access to information that they need while they’re in care, and then also having access to records post-care. So the two hopes are that there should be transparency and accountability from all parties. And underneath that, the St. Joseph’s orphanage survivors had written that authority and responsibility should be shared and not concentrated in one agency or institution. And that caseworker caseloads should be reasonable. I know, I think you brought that up, Hailey, in our, our first episode and kind of advice to DCF was about having a caseload where the workers can actually give you the attention that you need.

Hailey (05:37):


Kate Cunningham (05:38):

The second hope or the last hope written by the survivors of the St. Joseph’s orphanage are that youth have access to records. The state should seek ways to allow children access to their records when they reach adulthood. And the bullet underneath that basically just says, people deserve information and support in accessing the records. So thinking about transparency and accountability and access to your information, what does that mean to you?

Hailey (06:09):

Accountability to me means taking responsibility for your actions. And I believe that should go for like all parties around you. Like every person’s action has an outcome.

Kate Cunningham (06:22):

Mm-Hmm. <affirmative>.

Hailey (06:24):

And I think a lot of the time caseworkers and supporters or foster parents they don’t always take in accountability for their actions.

Kate Cunningham (06:36):

Right. So everybody, right? I know youth feel like their actions are always under the microscope, but really having all, all people involved.

Mercedes (06:46):

Yeah. I think that, I know we touched on I bel, what episode was it, one? The caseworker caseloads?

Kate Cunningham (06:54):

Mm-Hmm. <affirmative>.

Mercedes (06:55):

My worker was telling me she used to work in California as well, that well, while she was in Vermont, she had, was only supposed to have like 15 cases and she had double that. And then when she worked in California, she was only supposed to have 25 and she had double that.

Kate Cunningham (07:12):


Mercedes (07:12):

So like, caseworkers are like really overworked and it’s horrible.

Kate Cunningham (07:17):


Hailey (07:17):

Overworked and underpaid.

Mercedes (07:20):

Overworked and underpaid. I I read somewhere that social work and childcare are the most underpaid career paths.

Hailey (07:29):

They are.

Mercedes (07:29):

And that’s literally like the development of the next generation. And you’re putting the least amount of money into that? And I hate when people say, oh, you know, gen Z’s failing, blah, blah, blah, all this stuff. Our generation’s never gonna last. Yeah. Maybe ’cause you pay people like that, like crap.

Hailey (07:46):

I mean, football players make more than the president <laugh>.

Mercedes (07:49):

Right. <laugh>.

Hailey (07:49):

Like, I think we got our priorities of pay very, very wrong. Misconstrued

Kate Cunningham (07:56):

<Laugh>. Yeah, you’re right. It’s where, where are our priorities? And I do hear, I don’t think anybody who would be listening to this podcast would disagree with you.

Hailey (08:04):


Kate Cunningham (08:04):

About the the caseload size and the pay for sure. Yeah. And I love what you said Hailey, too, just about that everybody could just be accountable for yourself, right?

Hailey (08:13):

Mm-Hmm. <Affirmative>, I think transparency’s important too though because like, you know, keeping secrets, dude, like it’s, so many secrets are kept when you’re in the system from caseworkers, foster homes, placements, like so many things are just thrown underneath the rug and not talked about or, you know?

Kate Cunningham (08:33):

Mm-Hmm. <Affirmative>. What information would be helpful to have? Like what, what do you think was kept?

Hailey (08:38):

Like in my case, personally?

Kate Cunningham (08:40):

Maybe your case and, and like when you think of.

Hailey (08:44):

The secrecy, like my case, my case was so secret. I wasn’t even supposed to enter DCF. I was supposed to have a team meeting to bring back and set in place of how I could get back into school and have a smooth transition. And instead the DCF worker went to court at seven o’clock that morning, got custody of me, and at this team meeting where they told my mom for weeks in advance that my dad wouldn’t have to be there because I wasn’t being taken anywhere. And the secrecy was just so strong, they, they went to court, they got custody of me. I saw my dad two seconds before I was put in handcuffs and shackles at 11 years old and brought to a, a placement.

Mercedes (09:23):

Mm-Hmm. <Affirmative>

Hailey (09:24):

To be held for a week.

Kate Cunningham (09:27):

Oh yeah.

Hailey (09:28):

Like, like two seconds. Two seconds. I saw my dad. He literally, he went 90 on the interstate just to try to get to the DCF building to be able to see me before they took me. And so the secrecy is just so strong. Like, there shouldn’t be so much secrecy in like, the cases and how things are handled. Like when you’re told for weeks in advance, no, your husband doesn’t need to be there, it’s just a meeting to get things back in order. And you go to that meeting and then you’re told that you’re being taken.

Kate Cunningham (09:57):

mm-hmm. <Affirmative>.

Hailey (09:57):

From the only family you’ve been with your entire life.

Kate Cunningham (10:00):


Hailey (10:01):

Like, that just, it felt wrong. It felt so wrong. Like that should not have been able to happen.

Kate Cunningham (10:08):

Yeah. And even if things change, I don’t know your case, but even if things change quickly, which sometimes they do to be open. Right. And to let people know, like kind of no surprises.

Hailey (10:18):

Let people know be beforehand. Like you could have called my mom that morning and told them, hey, like, some things have changed and like, you know, I could get if like it was the parent who was a flight risk, but this meeting was because of my choices, my actions. My parents did everything in the book. They fed me, they clothed me. They didn’t use drugs. They, they were all so healthy. Like, they didn’t do anything to get me taken away. I was taken away due to my choices, my actions.

Kate Cunningham (10:44):

mm-hmm. <Affirmative> mm-hmm.

Mercedes (10:45):


Hailey (10:46):

So they could have communicated and told them like, Hey, things have changed. Like we’re we wanna place her in a placement to keep eyes on her for a little bit.

Kate Cunningham (10:55):

Yeah. It’s that reminder that even just like a quick phone call. Right? Even in a busy day. This has changed.

New Speaker (11:02):

But yeah. No, they went to court 7:00 AM in the morning. ’cause My meeting was at eight.

Kate Cunningham (11:06):


Hailey (11:07):

7:00 AM they made an emergency court date, got guardianship of me. Took my parent, my mom and dad’s parental rights away.

Kate Cunningham (11:15):

Mm-Hmm. <Affirmative>.

Hailey (11:15):

And I saw my dad for two seconds before I was put in handcuffs and shackles.

Kate Cunningham (11:19):

Yeah, so really, yeah, just taking the time to, even if things change.

Hailey (11:22):


Kate Cunningham (11:22):

Let you know

Mercedes (11:23):

The secrecy with the movements that they make. Like when they move a child, like when I was placed in programs for the first time, I remember it was a Friday night. They I had did some extremely minor self-harm, like minor as in like, it looked like I scraped myself on a table. And they decided to put me in programs for that. And then they had told me, oh no, we were gonna put you in programs that Tuesday anyway, you just expedited, you’re, you’re going into it.

Mercedes (11:54):

Like, I’ve had programs where they like, the cops just show up or my DCF worker just shows up and they’re like, okay, you’re leaving. Pack your stuff.

Kate Cunningham (12:03):

Mm-Hmm <Affirmative>.

Mercedes (12:03):

I can’t even go to a sleepover anymore without having flashbacks, without even like, like it’s horrible. I can’t even have a quick transition where my friend says, Hey, you wanna go out to lunch? Or actually our plans are changing. It like scares me so bad because I’ve had so many experiences with the secrecy of moving me and just throwing me around.

Hailey (12:22):

The secrecy with moving is strong. There was times in the middle of the night I’d be in a foster home and the police and my DCF worker would show up and my being thrown in fucking trash bags and I’m being told, nope, you’re being moved tonight.

Mercedes (12:34):

They give you about, they literally say you have 10 minutes to pack your stuff.

Hailey (12:38):

I didn’t even get 10 minutes. I had five minutes.

Mercedes (12:40):


Hailey (12:41):

Five minutes to pack all my things.

Mercedes (12:42):

Literally they give you like 15 minutes tops. And they only make you pack, Like you have, you’re

Hailey (12:47):


Mercedes (12:47):

No sentimentals. I have one belonging from when I was a child and not even a child. I have one belonging from when I was 13 years old. Like, I don’t have anything from my childhood because the, of that, of the amount of moves I’ve made, not even to mention, like being in programs and placements. If you don’t come back to take your stuff, your workers don’t care about your stuff. They literally just throw it away or give it to other kids.

Hailey (13:05):

They do.

Mercedes (13:05):

Like everything of mine is gone like from ages 13 and before.

Hailey (13:10):

And that’s that that comes in hand with like, some of the traits I have. I mean, I’m not like an extreme hoarder.

Mercedes (13:16):

mm-hmm. <Affirmative>.

Hailey (13:16):

But like, I have a hard time like.

Mercedes (13:18):

Letting go?

Hailey (13:19):

Not just letting go, but like me and my boyfriend we’re homeless right now and like, you know, our car <laugh>, we’ve had to literally like decrease our belongings. And to like, explain to him how hard that is for me is like so hard. ’cause Like he grew up in the system too, but he was adopted at three and so he didn’t get to experience all the things that I had to.

Kate Cunningham (13:45):

mm-hmm. <Affirmative>.

Mercedes (13:46):


Hailey (13:46):

And so for him to be like, babe, we can’t carry all this shit. And I’m just like, I, I can’t fucking let go of this, bro. No. I don’t know what you want. And so it’s just so hard because, you know, I have, I had nothing because I was moved my first foster home when I was taken from my mom and then after the placement of the hold that they put me in for a week my mom packed me a bag in my personal bag, not a trash bag. Like she packed me a bag, my bag was thrown away and I literally from there, carried all of my shit in trash bags from placement to placement to foster home, to foster home. And like, you know, like you did get an occasional good foster home who would give you a, a duffle bag. That duffle bag would be gone in the next placement. They’d take it, throw it somewhere, forget where it is. And when you’re taken, thrown back into trash bags,

Mercedes (14:41):

I have heard the term trash bag kid so much because of DCF. Like I’ve, I’ve seen memes about it, tiktok, everything like calling us trash bag kids

Kate Cunningham (14:50):

mm-hmm <Affirmative>

Mercedes (14:50):

Because you literally have to log all of your stuff around in trash bags because nobody caress enough to give you all of your, your stuff. And nobody caress if it’s what condition it’s in.

Kate Cunningham (15:03):

Yeah. Boy, this really is, it’s a painful truth. Yeah. And it, it brings me back to the advice we could give the workers.

Mercedes (15:12):


Kate Cunningham (15:12):

Right? The advice you can give the foster placements advice. You can give the, the residential placements.

Mercedes (15:18):

I would say working harder to keep all of our stuff together. because I kind of have the same issue a little bit as Hailey is like letting go of my, not even just letting go of it, but like, I have a, I live in a small bedroom with my girlfriend and I’m like, I need this stuff. I don’t have that much stuff. I’ve limited down a lot and I’ve told her I’ve limited a lot down a lot of my stuff. And I tell her all the time, I’ve lost so much.

Hailey (15:41):


Mercedes (15:41):

And I can’t, I can’t let go of more, I’m sorry.

Hailey (15:44):

When I lived with my ex-fiance I brought all of my clothes, every piece of clothing I had, you know, even clothing that I haven’t worn in like three plus years, but I still kept it. And when I finally decided that it was time to go through my clothes and like donate what I couldn’t fit in anymore, or donate things that I literally swimmed in. I had like 12 mental breakdowns, putting shit in trash bags. Because like these are clothes that I had held onto since I had finally left the system and I was able to have all my belongings and I knew that my shit wasn’t gonna be thrown away. And so it was really rough for me when, you know, I’m, I’m literally sitting there having mental breakdowns about donating clothes and she had never, ever, like in her life experienced the state system.

Hailey (16:38):

Like she had, she, she was the goodie two shoes child, like never went into state system, lived with her parents her entire life. And so like she didn’t know what I was going through. And so like, I’m having mental breakdowns, throwing clothes away that are stained or holey or don’t putting them in the donate pile. And she’s just like, it’s gonna be okay. Like it’s not a big deal. And I’m like, you don’t get it though. You don’t, you won’t ever get it. And a lot of people are so uneducated with how much, when you get out of the system, like when you get out of the system and you’re either out on your own or you’re back with your family, you either go one of two ways, you become a hoarder or you live minimalistic.

Kate Cunningham (17:21):

mm-hmm <Affirmative>

Hailey (17:22):

And lots of people. It, it’s, it’s not even a 50 50 or 80 20, like it’s just, you never know which way you’re gonna go.

Mercedes (17:32):

Mm-Hmm. <Affirmative>.

Hailey (17:32):

It, it just depends on how your system experience was and like, so no, I wouldn’t consider myself a hoarder, but I do hold on to things like it’s a sentimental value when it’s not <laugh>.

Mercedes (17:44):


Kate Cunningham (17:45):

Well it has meaning to you.

Mercedes (17:46):


Hailey (17:47):

Mm-Hmm. <Affirmative>

Kate Cunningham (17:47):

And boy, the what seems like such a simple thing, packing someone’s stuff up in a trash bag, has the impact. This huge impact on you as an adult.

Mercedes (18:00):


Kate Cunningham (18:00):

Or a young adult.

Hailey (18:01):


Kate Cunningham (18:02):

Yeah, that probably won’t change quickly.

Hailey (18:05):

My boyfriend lives very minimalistic <laugh> and I don’t mm-hmm. <Affirmative> and so like, you know, when I first got with him, like he had nothing. He had his cloths that he’s had for 10 plus years. <Laugh>.

Kate Cunningham (18:17):


Hailey (18:19):

And like, you know, he just lived so very minimal and I’m very like, I need this to live.

Kate Cunningham (18:26):

Mm-Hmm <Affirmative>

Hailey (18:27):

I don’t, but I do.

Kate Cunningham (18:29):

It represents stability or, or.

Hailey (18:32):


Kate Cunningham (18:33):

Sense of, yeah.

Hailey (18:34):

Yeah definitely. Yep.

Kate Cunningham (18:35):

We didn’t really get into that transition piece when we were talking about the alternative care givers and the residential. Do you have any advice on, on, I know we’ve talked about just the, the stuff right? And the timing. Any other advice? Like what would be helpful to know? How would’ve been helpful to know ahead of time? How much ahead of time?

Mercedes (18:56):

My, my program tried to make my transition very smooth, but I, I got a girlfriend and we took things very fast. And I ended up moving in with her and her family. And so my program, my program tried to make things as slow and smooth as they would’ve liked, but.

Kate Cunningham (19:18):


Mercedes (19:20):

They, I guess with lesbians they call it u hauling where.

Hailey (19:23):


Mercedes (19:23):

they call it U-hauling

Hailey (19:24):

U hauling.

Mercedes (19:25):

Which basically means

Hailey (19:27):

It’s so funny though,

Mercedes (19:27):

You rent a U-haul and you move in really fast together. It’s a thing. It’s a thing.

Hailey (19:31):

It is, it’s a thing.

Kate Cunningham (19:32):

I’ve never heard of that it’s

Hailey (19:33):

A thing. It really is.

Mercedes (19:34):

Mm-Hmm. <Affirmative>,

Hailey (19:35):

I u-haul on on the third date and the third date was the third day we knew each other.

Mercedes (19:39):

Right. Exactly. It’s so a thing.

Hailey (19:41):


Mercedes (19:42):

So we kind of U-hauled and we moved in together very fast. So my program tried to do a good job of transitioning me, but it ended up not working out, not because of them, because of me.

Kate Cunningham (19:53):

Mm-Hmm. <affirmative>. Mm-Hmm. <affirmative>, you made choices.

Mercedes (19:54):


Hailey (19:55):

My transitions were never smooth.

Mercedes (19:57):


Hailey (19:58):

They were always, always very last minute.

Kate Cunningham (20:00):

Mm-Hmm. <Affirmative>.

Hailey (20:01):

Never planned out. I think things could have been planned out. I mean, I’m not saying I needed a week in advance notice. Yeah. But at least like two to three days, like, hey, just so you know, like you might be going to a different foster family or, you know, and I feel like making transitions smoother should be a thing. Like most of the time you’re just thrown into this foster family who you’ve never met. You should be able to meet the person in advance and like, you know, be able to get like some sort of like, feel on them before you just go there and live with these people. You don’t know.

Mercedes (20:36):

There have been, I’ve had so many sleepless nights where I’m like, oh, I gotta make sure stay up so this family won’t murder me.

Kate Cunningham (20:42):


Mercedes (20:42):

You know?

Hailey (20:42):

My first foster family like I went there and like, they were decent people in a sense. <Laugh>, they were really weird. And we had these little TVs think of like you know, when you go to the hospital, how like they have those TVs that like, are like on the little stretcher wall things.

Mercedes (21:00):

Mm-Hmm. <affirmative>.

Kate Cunningham (21:00):

Mm-Hmm. <affirmative>.

Mercedes (21:01):

Mm-Hmm. <Affirmative>.

Hailey (21:01):

That’s what their TVs looked like. They were like little tiny like looking hospital TVs. And my TV volume was on three all night. So, so silent. Yeah. I went downstairs for breakfast the next morning and I got screamed at and disciplined being told that if I didn’t sleep with the TV quieter, they were gonna take it. It was on three <laugh>. Yeah. How much quieter can you get a tv? And so like the next night I put it on two and they’re like, it was still loud. They came upstairs, they followed me upstairs, they took a pair of scissors and they cut the cord to the tv.

Kate Cunningham (21:38):


Mercedes (21:38):


Hailey (21:39):

In front of my face. And they said, guess you won’t be fucking watching television now, will you? And I was just like, are you for real right now? <Laugh>?

Kate Cunningham (21:48):


Mercedes (21:49):


Kate Cunningham (21:49):

Yeah. A it seems a little extreme. And b again, I just go back to the, the ability to tell somebody this, right? That chance or that opportunity.

Hailey (22:00):


Kate Cunningham (22:00):

To be open and let somebody know Your, your worker, your guardian ad litem. Definitely. Yeah. Kind of the way that you were being treated. I think you both have said that you’ve off record or off the recording that you both have had some access to your information since leaving the system?

Hailey (22:21):

I didn’t even know I was allowed to have ac access to it until I needed it for court documents.

Mercedes (22:28):

I haven’t gotten any access to it. I’ve asked a few different times. My DCF worker like gave, so I had my DCF worker for like two years and all of a sudden it was like a Monday and she was like, yeah, my last day’s Wednesday.

Kate Cunningham (22:40):


Mercedes (22:40):

Like, and I had such a good relationship with her, like, we still talk because I love her so much.

Kate Cunningham (22:45):

mm-hmm. <Affirmative>.

Mercedes (22:45):

Like, she’s one of my favorite people. And she just like gave me one of the supervisor’s emails and then I went with a different worker. This was my last like, two months in foster care. Went with a different worker. She quit like three weeks later. And so I was finally just given to the supervisor.

Kate Cunningham (23:01):


Mercedes (23:02):

My case was just given to her, but my going out of DCF was super weird. I had a lot of transition and I was basically just done with DCF at that point. I was like, this is just the epitome of DCF. Like, just being.

Hailey (23:14):

Getting outta of DCF is, is such a long process.

Mercedes (23:16):

It’s so weird. And I’m like, you guys have already made my life difficult enough. Could you like, at least make my trans transition somewhat smooth? I have also had to figure out, a few years ago, they actually messed up my social security number.

Kate Cunningham (23:30):


Mercedes (23:30):

They lost my social security card, my birth certificate, my everything. And they got my social security number wrong. I was using this wrong social security number for five years.

Kate Cunningham (23:40):


Mercedes (23:40):

Yeah, and I’ve had to recently fix it as an adult and make sure, cover my tracks, make sure that it’s right on everything. Having access to even my like personal information. My, my, my insurance and my social security number. I didn’t know my social security number for five years.

Kate Cunningham (23:56):

Right, right.

Mercedes (23:56):

Like, I didn’t even get that much information about myself.

Hailey (23:59):

They didn’t give anything back to my family after I discharged.

Mercedes (24:02):


Hailey (24:02):

My birth certificate, social security card, my insurance card, none of that was given back to my family. Don’t know where it went, but we had to jump through, jump through hoops to get everything.

Mercedes (24:11):


Mercedes (24:12):

Back in 2021. Yeah. They lost all my documents and they just reprinted them. They didn’t even think to track down where the original ones were. They didn’t even, they one day they just called me, they were like, yeah, we lost all your documents. And I was like, I’m sorry, what? That’s like a big deal. I still don’t have my insurance card. I’m just gonna order a new one. But <laugh> anyways,

Hailey (24:30):

It’s free. I had to do it.

Mercedes (24:31):

Yeah. I’m, I’m about to, I I gotta make the phone call, but yeah. That’s adult stuff for you.

Kate Cunningham (24:36):

Yeah. Is this isn’t even part of kind of the, the hopes and aspirations, but what would make transitioning out of DCF helpful?

Mercedes (24:43):

I think,

Kate Cunningham (24:44):

Besides getting your documents?

Hailey (24:46):

A better plan, A better plan. Like setting us up for successful, just discharging, not just like discharging us and like, you know, relying on either us or our parents to pick up the, the missing pieces.. Because like

Kate Cunningham (25:02):


Hailey (25:03):

You’re not really given a plan plan, like you’re given your transitional plan. Like, oh, all right, you’re gonna leave this placement on this day to go back to here. This person will pick you up and that’s it.

Kate Cunningham (25:14):


Hailey (25:15):

Not like a plan or like checking in like every two to three months. Like, Hey, how are things going? Like, do you need any help finding resources for anything? Like there should be a better plan set in place, not just the transitional plan.

Kate Cunningham (25:29):

Yeah. I kind of

Mercedes (25:30):

It could, I could use a hotline after, after Care DCF hotline to be like, yo, how do I access my files? Where is this information?

Kate Cunningham (25:39):


Mercedes (25:39):

I need this from you guys. <Laugh>.

Kate Cunningham (25:41):

Not a bad idea there.

Mercedes (25:42):

After you age out <laugh>. Yeah. Like, that’d be so nice if there was just like some designated workers to like, go back through the system and see if they could get that information for you or get like some type

Hailey (25:53):

Well, it’s all saved in the files. Mm-Hmm. They have it.

Mercedes (25:55):


Hailey (25:55):

Like there’s, there should be, there should be an after an aftercare hotline.

Mercedes (26:00):


Kate Cunningham (26:01):

That’s smart.

Hailey (26:02):

I wasn’t even told about YDP or Spectrum until like years after I discharged from the program. I literally joined Spectrum last year.

Kate Cunningham (26:11):


Mercedes (26:12):

No, Spectrum has been honestly great to me. I I got with Spectrum about when I was, well, I was living in Massachusetts when I was 15, so they apparently couldn’t put in the referral when I was in Massachusetts and I couldn’t be with it anyways, even though I was like, the plan was to come back to Vermont and I was definitely coming back because yeah. I was just in intensive treatment Yeah. Down there. And when I aged out of the system they, I had a worker who she kind of knew what she was doing. She was very new and it wasn’t her fault. She was a lovely human being. But now that I have my new worker, she’s much more experienced and she knows a lot more.

Kate Cunningham (26:52):


Mercedes (26:52):

Which again, wasn’t my old worker’s fault.

Kate Cunningham (26:54):


Mercedes (26:54):

But she just didn’t know as much as my new worker does. And it’s very helpful to have the financial resources and just the resource of my YDP worker having so much knowledge that’s definitely helped in my transition still is even helping me. Like I’m trying to find an apartment right now and I am trying to work through my life as a young adult. And it has been super helpful not having a person, like a worker, like a DCF worker, I mean?

Kate Cunningham (27:20):

Mm-Hmm. <Affirmative>.

Mercedes (27:21):

But just like a, it just, all my interactions with Y D P have felt superhuman.

Kate Cunningham (27:25):


Mercedes (27:26):

And I love it.

Kate Cunningham (27:27):

Yeah. So YDP, Spectrum.

Mercedes (27:29):

mm-hmm. <Affirmative>,

Kate Cunningham (27:29):

There are resources.

Mercedes (27:31):


Kate Cunningham (27:31):

Were you aware of the resources when you were either aging out?

Mercedes (27:34):


Kate Cunningham (27:34):


Mercedes (27:35):

I had my, my sister went into it as soon as she could at 15. And some families take advantage of that.

Hailey (27:43):

Mm-Hmm. <Affirmative>,

Mercedes (27:43):

Unfortunately, a lot of families take advantage of the, the money that is given from kids who use YDP and Spectrum.

Kate Cunningham (27:52):

But, you know, people get greedy with money and whatever, and as soon as some families know there’s money involved, they’re like, ooh, gimme some of that. But for the most part, YDP has been extremely helpful. Me turning 18, I didn’t know too much about them when I was like 16, 17. I didn’t know all the benefits, but now that I’m, I’m like 18, I’m like heck yeah.

Kate Cunningham (28:12):

Right and you have access.

Mercedes (28:14):

Yeah. And I, I call and text my YDP worker all the time. She’s the only one in my county.

Kate Cunningham (28:19):

Mm-Hmm <Affirmative>.

Mercedes (28:19):

So I a hundred percent give her some leeway because it must be a lot of work to be the only worker. She said that she also works part-time for an entire county.

Kate Cunningham (28:28):

Oh boy. Yeah. Yeah. Like, that’s

Mercedes (28:29):

Yeah like that’s Ccazy.

Kate Cunningham (28:29):

It’s that caseload size again, right?

Mercedes (28:30):

Mm-Hmm <affirmative>.

Kate Cunningham (28:31):

When we talk about things for everybody.

Mercedes (28:33):


Kate Cunningham (28:34):

All resources. Whew. Well, I feel like we’ve, we’ve covered a lot in three episodes and I, again, a hundred percent you have my, my heart, you have my everything about me that to send out, to give, give love to you and my gratitude so much for all this conversation. I do have one last question. Yeah. Because we went through some of the hopes and aspirations of the voices of St. Joseph’s Orphanage, and I’m just curious, what hope or aspiration would you give for youth, young people growing up who might be in the system?

Mercedes (29:12):

I would like for foster families to be more looked into. And like I have younger siblings, I have siblings that are so much younger than me that are all in the foster care system, and I just want the best for them. You know, I just want them to be loved and safe. It’s honestly not that big of an ask. Sadly. It’s not that big of an ask. I just want them to be loved and cared for because even though I don’t know them that well, they’re, they’re probably amazing kids, you know?

Hailey (29:40):


Mercedes (29:40):

And all kids should be given a good chance, you know? Absolutely.

Hailey (29:45):

I just think like, you know, like what I said before children not being excluded in foster homes and treated as if they’re their own. I also do believe that there really should be way stricter requirements to be a foster parent.

Mercedes (30:01):


Hailey (30:01):

And more extensive training. And I firmly believe that the training to be a foster parent shouldn’t be a one and done To be a foster parent, you should have to attend monthly trainings.

Kate Cunningham (30:13):

Well, thank you both. I.

Mercedes (30:15):

Yeah, thank you.

Kate Cunningham (30:16):

Send you off into the world.

Hailey (30:18):

Thank you for having us.

Kate Cunningham (30:19):

You are, you have been amazing. Open, mature, thoughtful, lovely, human.

Mercedes (30:26):

Thank you.

Hailey (30:27):

Thank you.

Mercedes (30:27):

And lovely talking <laugh>.

Kate Cunningham (30:28):

Thank you.

Cassie Gillespie (30:32):

The Social Work Lens is produced by the University of Vermont’s Child Welfare Training Partnership and the State of Vermont. Our theme music is composed and performed by local band Brick Drop, and our sound production and engineering has been brought to you by Egan Media Productions. We’d also like to give a special thank you to our in-house administrative production assistant Emma Baird. For The Social Work Lens, I’m Cassie Gillespie, and we’ll see you next time.

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