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Riley Borden was 14 and in middle school when the state Department of Children & Families removed her and her younger brother from their father’s home and placed her in the first of what ultimately would be seven foster homes.
It was a hard time, but Riley did not let it deter her from planning a successful future — a future that will include going to college in September, placing her among the fewer than 10% of foster care children who attend college. Only about half of foster care children even graduate high school, said Robert Costa, director of JRI’s Foster Care Program, citing National Foster Youth Institute statistics. Riley is one of four students in the JRI Foster Care Program who will enroll in a college or university this fall.
DCF officials first visited Riley’s home after receiving a concerning call from school personnel. After visiting the home, they learned that the children’s father was away a lot, and their mother lived elsewhere. Riley was doing the cooking and caring for herself and her brother.
She said she wasn’t surprised when DCF stepped in to place her in foster care.
“The only reason I didn’t call (DCF) myself was that I didn’t think they would take it seriously,” she said.
Thus began a series of brief stays in foster care. Then almost three years ago, she went to live with Michael and Elise Medeiros of South Yarmouth, who had one grown daughter of their own and have served as foster parents for a total of nine foster children since 2017— including two boys, now 6 and 10, whom they ultimately adopted.
Michael Medeiros is a licensed social worker who worked with a state agency to help train foster parents. That’s where he said he learned about JRI’s “highly effective” Foster Care Program, which trains foster parents and supports children and parents in foster homes.
“There is a stigma for children in foster care” because most people only pay attention “when something terrible happens” involving a foster child, he said. As a result, not enough people are willing to act as foster parents, particularly for older children like Riley.
“The need for teen placements is profound,” Michael said.
Riley said she has not seen her birth parents in more than a year, but living with the Medeiros family provided a sense of order and predictability that had been missing from her life.
“They were cool,” Riley said. “They were very helpful and very supportive. It was strange for me because I wasn’t used to that kind of treatment.”
She would graduate from Barnstable High School, where she sang in the chorus and had parts in nine theatrical productions, including “Shrek The Musical,” “Fahrenheit 451” and “Dracula.”
“I wasn’t a great student,” Riley said. “I hated doing homework, but I always wanted to go to college.”
And she loved the two years of forensics studies she was able to take at Barnstable High. She said she got perfect scores in those classes.
“I love to learn,” she said. “And that interested me like nothing else. It was like putting a puzzle together.”
Now 18, Riley graduated, worked some during the summer and is planning to start classes at Salem State University next month to study both theater and forensics, which uses scientific methods to investigate and understand criminal behavior.
“I’m excited,” she said. “And I wanted to stay near the coast and the ocean.”
Tuition at state colleges and universities is free to foster children, as DCF covers the cost.
Riley, who hopes for a career in theater, is “very independent,” Michael said. “She has her sights set to live on her own.”
But that doesn’t mean she will go away to college and not see the Medeiros family again.
“We have told her she will always have a home with us,” Michael said.
Michael said he will cherish memories of the time spent with Riley: teaching her to drive, helping her plan for her prom and graduation.
“These are lifelong memories,” he said. “We hope she will come stay with us” during holidays and breaks from classes.
Costa said the fact that Riley and three other students in the JRI Foster Care Program will attend college is a testament to the young people’s determination and the support they received from the program, case managers and the foster parents.
“Most young people in foster care do not have the same support systems that traditional students have,” he said. “With approval from DCF, we are hoping that we will be able to offer supportive services to our recent graduates as they begin the college experience. Our program is beyond proud of Riley and all of our recent graduates.”
If you are interested in learning about becoming a foster parent, please contact Robert Costa, program director, at 508-821-7774 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.