News and culture through the lens of Southern California.
Hosted by A Martínez
Airs Weekdays 2 to 3 p.m.

South LA foster child faces uncertain future

Cortlenn, Cordel, Jr. and Coriah Welch visit their father, Cordel, at their grandmother's house in South Los Angeles.
Cortlenn, Cordel, Jr. and Coriah Welch visit their father, Cordel, at their grandmother's house in South Los Angeles.
Aaron Schrank/KQED

Listen to story

Download this story 9MB

The morning bell at her high school has already rung, but Coriah Welch is still at home.

She's busy getting three little boys ready for school.
"I have to wake up very early in the morning," she says. "I have to pick out three outfits and comb three full heads of hair and make three meals a day. That's why most of the time I'm late for school, if I'm not up early enough. Then when I come home, it's the same. I do everything over and put them to bed."
It sounds like a lot of work, and it is. Coriah is 17. She and three of her four half-brothers are living in a foster home in South Los Angeles. She's not just their big sister, but also their protector.
"We kind of have the same name," Coriah says. "My name's Coriah, and then there's Cordel Jr., Cortlenn, Cortez-Dubois and Coreon. They're 4, 3, 2 and 1, back to back. They're really good kids, those are my babies."
Coriah is currently a senior at a high school in South Los Angeles, formerly known as South Central. It's the seventh one she's been to, thanks to bouncing around in the foster care system with her brothers. She has applied to more than 70 universities. She wants to go into politics and work to help foster kids. But first, she needs to decide on a college.
Coriah attended Foshay Learning Center for most of her senior year. She spent almost every lunch period sitting in the office of academic counselor Renysha Scott, talking college options. Her biggest worry: moving to another state and leaving her brothers behind.
"Her heart is not going to allow her to leave if she doesn't feel like they're secure," Scott says. "I think a huge part of it has to do with what happens with them between now and the time she gets ready to actually attend somewhere. I think she is very tenacious, so I really feel like whatever she wants to achieve, she'll absolutely get there."
Coriah wasn't always a foster kid. Her mother hasn't been in her life since she can remember, but she and her brothers lived with her father until two years ago. After a domestic dispute between her dad and the boys' mother, the kids were separated, sent to foster homes all over Los Angeles.
"I would think every day like, 'Are they eating OK? Are they bathing every day? Can they sleep at night?' Coriah says. "Because I wasn't sleeping at night. Sometimes, I thought in my head like, 'How could my mom not feel like this when I'm away? How does a mother not feel this?"
Coriah fought to get her family back together. She spent a lot of time on the phone with the Department of Children and Family Services and the lawyers representing her brothers.
"Every day, they got a call from me," she said. "I was bugging them."
After months of calling, Coriah got herself and three of her brothers into a foster home with a family friend. The fourth brother went to Coriah's grandmother. It's not a perfect situation, but the kids are pretty much together. Every Sunday, they spend the day at their grandmother's, hanging out and playing video games.
Their dad, Cordel Welch, is allowed a supervised visit. He's glad Coriah can be a role model for his younger kids - and look out for them.
"I really need her to be that right now for me," Welch says. "Because of the separation, it's real important to me, and it's important that she does a good job at it, too. That's like my younger kids' future."
Coriah's social worker recently told her that if she wanted, she could move back with her dad - but her brothers couldn't, so Coriah said no.
"I used to complain all the time that I wanted to go home, and I wanted them to go home, but it's like, if they're not there, how is it a home?" Coriah says.
Another reason to stay in the system: If Coriah leaves foster care, she'll lose eligibility for all sorts of scholarships and grants given to foster kids.
And she knows they can help her more than her dad can. Her dad knows this, too.
"She needs all the head start she can get," Welch says. "So, yeah, I would definitely support her using all the advantages she can get."
After a long day at school, Coriah rifles through the mail before getting the boys ready for bed.  
She's been accepted to about 20 colleges, mostly outside California. Many of her top choices closer to home rejected her. There's a lot on her mind, like her brothers.
"If I have to go out of the state, I'm going to have to do it, and I'm going to do it,
 she says. "But, they're going to be torn."
So is Coriah. Her family will all be there in mid-June to watch her graduate.
And they'll be rooting for her to stay in California. She's not sure what she'll do.
For her, college is the first step toward a career helping children in need. She just hopes she can take it without hurting the children who might need her most.

This report is part of an ongoing series examining "Graduation Day," produced by The California Report and the USC Annenberg's School of Communication and Journalism.