MARTINEZ, Calif. (KTVU) - This holiday season, while many people prepare to celebrate with trees, lights, presents and time with family, it can be a difficult time for foster care children.
Brodie Lytle, 17, says he's spent more than three years in foster care, including placement with one family and time in two group homes.
"You just don't feel like you're in control of your own life," Lytle said. He never told his friends at school where he lived.
"I didn't tell them...'cause that's embarassing...just saying the word group home makes it sound so institutionalized," Lytle said, "I would just be like, you know, I don't have parents. I just live with a group of other people."
Brodie says, in truth, his parents live apart. One is in Contra Costa County and the other is in Pennsylvania.
After living in two group homes, he's done a lot of learning on his own. He says he enjoys rebuilding computers. He was in his school's junior ROTC program and recently joined the Army reserve. he also plans to apply to Diablo Valley College.
According to the California Department of Social Services, there are 61,000 California children in foster care, with 14,000 certified foster families to take them in.
Counties statewide, will need many more families starting January 1, 2017 when a new law AB 403 takes effect.
Congra Costa Children and Family Services Supervisor Aida Amezaga says group homes will be turned into short-term treatment centers.
"In the next two years group homes per se, how we work with them, will change dramatically which will require us to recruit much more foster families," said Amezaga.
This holiday, the county has launched a campaign, hoping more Californians will consider opening their homes to foster youth.
"I think it's really important for community to come together and support these children. Whether they're little, whether they're infants, whether they're teenagers, whatever stage they're in," Amezaga said.
It's the kind of gift Brodie says, that could change a life.
"The most important thing...about Christmas to me is not the gifts that you receive, but the people that you're surrounded by," Brodie added.
Brodie says this year, he'll be spending Christmas with his biological sister, whom he just recently met.
Like so many foster kids, he'll be aging out of the system soon, but he says he wants to continue helping people understand the needs of foster kids.
Anyone interested in becoming a certified foster care home, or a "resource family" as the state will soon rename the title, the first step is to check with the county where you live. Each county has its own foster care system.
More information is available at the State Department of Social Services website: http://www.cdss.ca.gov/cdssweb/pg59.htm
Contra Costa county will be holding three orientations starting in January 2017.
Tuesday, January 10th, 2 to 4 p.m.
CC County EHSD office
1275 Hall Avenue, Richmond
Wednesday, January 11, 1 to 3 p.m.
Pittsburg Senior Center
300 Presidio Lane, Pittsburg
Thursday, January 12th and Tuesday, January 24, 5 to 7 p.m.
CC County EHSD Office
500 Ellinwood Way, Pleasant Hill
No registration necessary. Additional details are available at (925) 602-6910 Or Toll Free 1-866-313-7788 or on the Contra Costa county website: http://ehsd.org/children/foster-care-and-licensing/