Staff Attorney Kelsey Raves first met Tyler* and his Aunt Sara* through an intake session. As part of our Homeless Youth Justice Program (HYJP) and thanks to the Clinic’s close partnership with Outreach, Inc, a local nonprofit that works with homeless youth, Kelsey conducts intake at Outreach’s Drop-In Center on a regular basis. There, she meets directly with young men and women who are in need of legal assistance and information. On this particular day, she learned Tyler’s story. Nearly a year and a half earlier, Tyler and his father drove from their home in Missouri to Indianapolis. His father was going to drop Tyler off for a week-long visit with his Aunt Sara. But at the end of the week, Tyler’s father did not return. “Dad left and never came back,” says Kelsey. For a time, Tyler’s father still made some effort at contact. "He would send [Tyler] cards every once in awhile, so he didn't totally disappear, but he wouldn't come back for him,” Kelsey says. "He always said he didn't have money to come back and get him.”
At the time his father ditched him, Tyler was only 15. At the age of 12, his mother passed away unexpectedly, and Tyler was uprooted from his life in Illinois to go stay with his father. During their 3 years together, Tyler’s father lived a transient lifestyle, evicted from numerous apartments. He also lacked steady employment. This instability often created a gap in Tyler’s care and education, and he fell behind in his studies.
Now that he was living with his Aunt Sara, she was prepared to do everything she could to take care of her nephew. Being with her provided Tyler much-needed stability, but with this shift came a whole new set of difficulties. Because she was not Tyler’s legal guardian, her hands were often tied. Sara needed to get him enrolled in school. Also, Tyler suffered from numerous dental issues, but she was unable to get him coverage under her insurance, instead paying hundreds of dollars out-of-pocket for his care.
At one point, Tyler’s father agreed to help. "He told his sister that he would just sign over Guardianship to her and she could keep him,” Kelsey says. “And then when she tried to follow up on that, he was like, ‘No, I'm not going to do that. I'm a bad dad if I give you Guardianship.’” After a time, Tyler’s father stopped returning all phone calls and cut off contact completely.
When Sara and Tyler came to intake, Sara’s first priority was to get Tyler back in school. “Indiana’s Department of Education has forms so you can enroll a kid even if you're not a guardian because it's so important for them to be in school,” Kelsey says. “So I walked them through those forms, and they did get him enrolled in high school again.” Then, Kelsey was able to tackle the matter of Guardianship.
When temporary Guardianship was granted, Sara was elated. "She was practically crying in the elevator,” Kelsey says. “She's been trying to do the right thing by him, take care of him and support him and love him … she just literally needed the court's authorization.”
To learn more about the Clinic’s Homeless Youth Justice Program, please visit our website.
*Names have been changed.