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‘Your heart just swells’: These 10 Butler County foster kids have defied the odds

Case worker Amanda Hinkle congratulates Corina Jean on her graduation during the Butler County Children Services graduation ceremony for kids involved in the foster care program Thursday, June 21 in Hamilton. Corina graduated from Belmont High School and plans to attend Sinclair Community College to be a pharmacy tech. NICK GRAHAM/STAFF
Case worker Amanda Hinkle congratulates Corina Jean on her graduation during the Butler County Children Services graduation ceremony for kids involved in the foster care program Thursday, June 21 in Hamilton. Corina graduated from Belmont High School and plans to attend Sinclair Community College to be a pharmacy tech. NICK GRAHAM/STAFF

Every year Butler County Children Services celebrates the odds-beating accomplishments of foster children who graduate high school. This year was no different as social workers celebrated the accomplishments of 10 youths.

There were lots of tears, hugs, laughs and high-fives at the BCCS offices Thursday as social workers and others celebrated the new graduates, nearly all of whom are now off to Sinclair Community College.

Abby Sexton, independent living and emancipation coordinator for Children Services, told the Journal-News when she arrived at the agency in 2002 not a single foster child graduated.

“This is my favorite work day out of the year, out of any,” Sexton said. “It’s amazing to see these kiddos come in here and to have watched them over the past couple years grow into the persons they’ve become. To see them here today, having graduated, your heart just swells just to see where they are and where they’re going to go, it’s amazing.”

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In Ohio about 1,000 youth emancipate out of the foster care system every year, and only half of them get their diploma or a GED. Sexton said every move a child makes through the system it is said to set them back six months. So to be graduating with the rest of their age group is remarkable.

But take 18-year-old Tyler Holt, he has been in five different living situations in his short life but graduated as a member of the Honor Society and earned diplomas from both Middletown High School and Butler Tech. He’s got his own apartment now and is going into the veterinary program at Sinclair.

The hardest part about the foster care system?

“When you first get taken away from your parents is probably the hardest because that’s all you knew,” he said. “Then after that your world kind of changes, because now you have to call someone you’ve never met in your life your new mom or dad. But after the first time it’s easier.”

One of the social workers, Amanda Hinkle, had four of her charges in the graduating class. She was teary-eyed as she introduced them, telling each child’s success stories. But she lost it when she got to Corina.

“Girl,” she said as the tears started to flow. “I am very proud of Corina, she has come a very long way and fought through a lot of really tough situations and she has come out on the other side. She just graduated high school, she’s working, she’s getting ready to move into her own apartment, probably. I know that there’s going to be wonderful things from you and anything that gets thrown in your way, I know you can handle it.”

Corina works at Subway and is looking for a second part-time job and will be going into the pharmacy technician program at Sinclair. She and the others are taking advantage of a new law that took effect last year.

Known as “Bridges,” the law extends the foster care emancipation age to 21 and provides housing and support to those who would otherwise be on their own at age 18.

MORE: Governor taps $11 million for foster care emancipation extension

“It was definitely a lot less scary when I found out like there was still going to be help when I get emancipated,” Corina said. “It’s still going to be there to help me if I fall, or like if my car or something breaks down …. It was a lot less stress.”

At the graduation party the BCCS staff make lunch, there’s cake, balloons and banner and care baskets with things like pots and pans and other items the teens will need as they go to live on their own.

Social worker Erin Jackson basically summed up all the graduates when she described her charge, Ty.

“He has just overcome so much and grown so much, has learned to embrace the positives and roll with the eh (shoulder shrug),” Jackson said. “So you’re going to be awesome, you’re going to be great.”