March 24, 2023

“Knowing your foster child was abused, neglected, exposed to drugs — either in the home or in the womb — can make it especially difficult to not judge the parents,” said Barbara Sabido, a foster mother for six years.

“But after meeting my first (child) placement’s parents, I quickly realized they were fighting demons I’ve never had to fight, and really are doing the best they can. And learning not to judge spilled over into other areas of my life and made me a better person.”

As a national demographic, foster children struggle to make it in society, and organizations such as Children Have All Rights Legal, Emotional and Educational, and Family Care, are working with them in hopes of making a difference.

Riverside County, along with CHARLEE, held an event Sept. 15 at Fairmount Park in hopes of spreading awareness to people within the area and to show support for local foster children and agencies.

Walk A Mile In A Foster Child’s Shoes, a walk-race, took place on a Saturday afternoon and allowed people braving the scorching heat the opportunity to experience what it is like to “walk” in a foster child’s shoes.

All proceeds of the event, including a raffle drawing, food vendors and local businesses’ booths, benefited local foster care agencies and children within the program.

“We wanted to promote our services and let people know what CHARLEE does,” said Richard Rios, CHARLEE executive director.

“We hope we raise enough awareness here so that local businesses and people who want to give and find out how they can mentor some of these foster kids, an opportunity to learn how they can do, that is what this event is about.”

Despite the organization’s existence in the Riverside area for 35 years, there is still a struggle that occurs when foster children “age out” of the program at 18 years old.

“Fifty-three percent are incarcerated within the first 12 months of aging out, 51 percent are homeless and 1 percent graduates from a university,” said Shannon Smith, CHARLEE event coordinator.

Though shocking, the statistics are real.

“It’s tough for anyone in this economy to get a job,” Rios said, “and it’s just as hard for foster kids to get that support and those jobs too, so our attempt today is to bring awareness.”

Some children within foster care transfer multiple times from home to home due to different causes, such as anger or the personal baggage the child has from previous experiences.

“When kids have been abused, we take them away from all that they’re familiar with and put them with other people and ask them to adjust,” Rios said. “It’s really no fault of their own that they’re experiencing this abuse. So very often our kids are angry, and there are a lot of issues that surface. Some kids are really traumatized depending on how serious the abuse was.”

For Sabido, the mother of Dominic F. Sabido, senior history major, giving the proper love and affection for foster children has been her passion.

“We completed the foster-care licensing process in June 2005 and received our first foster child, a 4-day-old boy, in July 2006,” Sabido said.

She said her desire to help those in need has driven her to raise eight different child placements since her family began fostering children. With four boys already, the house has never been quiet, she said. However, her family recognizes how important it is to give back to others and how giving back can change lives.

“I find something new to love about foster parenting with each placement,” Sabido said. “I love babies, toddlers and preschoolers. I enjoy the challenge that each age group provides — emotionally and logistically.”

Gabriel Thurman, a graduate from the foster child program, stood on a cement block stage in the hot, sweltering sun Saturday morning and spoke to attendees of the Farimount Park event about how his foster care experience changed his perception of giving back to other people.

“One of the things we did here today is we had a graduate of our system, Gabriel Thurman, just give a little talk this morning about what his experience was, what his experience with CHARLEE was,” Rios said, “and now the fact that he has come back to work with foster kids because it’s a passion of his. He’s a product of the system, and now he’s back to give back himself.”

CHARLEE leaders said they hope to work closely with businesses in the future.

“What we’re attempting to do is to reach out to businesses in our community so that they also get to understand more about foster children and what they’re involved in and hopefully they’ll be able to extend some of what they’re doing in their businesses to foster kids,” Rios said.

According to Rios, CHARLEE hopes to also host other events in the future to continue spreading awareness.

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