Program aims to help teens, young adults moving from foster care to independent living

Foster Care Kids Need Love Too

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A new partnership between the Ohio Department of Job and Family Services and Big Brothers Big Sisters is bringing together caseworkers, employment counselors and mentors to help teens and young adults moving from foster care to independent living.

The journey is rough for many: Nationwide, about 81 percent of males previously in foster care are arrested by age 24; 48 percent of the females become pregnant by 19; and 22 percent have experienced homelessness.

“The statistics for children who leave foster care without being adopted are dire, and that’s putting it mildly,” said Benjamin Johnson, Job and Family Services spokesman. “We know we can do better.”

The initiative, which is to start immediately, will use federal welfare money to serve about 300 young people in eight Ohio counties.

A total of $1.8 million is available this year; about $2.6 million could be spent in 2014 and $2.5 million in 2015. As many as 1,300 young people in Ohio age out of foster care each year.

The effort is a pilot project that first will operate in Cuyahoga, Lake, Summit and Hamilton counties, and as a collaborative effort in Montgomery, Preble, Clinton and Green counties. Although Big Brothers Big Sisters of Central Ohio will oversee the mentoring, Franklin is not among the pilot counties.

“We’re certainly hoping that we’ll get some really positive results, and we’ll see it expand throughout the state,” said Mary Palkowski, spokeswoman for Big Brothers Big Sisters of Central Ohio.

The program — “Connecting the Dots from Foster Care to Employment and Independent Living” — aims to connect vital services that, too often, remain fragmented and out of reach for many current and former foster youth.

For those still in care, the initiative is to offer mentoring, educational supports and work readiness training. Older teens and young adults are to receive improved independent living and employment services so that they can make the transition to work, vocational training, college and independent living.

Portions of the grants will be used by local Workforce Investment Boards to handle the employment component.

The funding is in addition to the $5.9 million per year in federal money that Ohio currently budgets for independent-living services for foster youth.

“For too long, children leaving foster care have had few places to turn and few people to lean on, but that is about to change,” said Michael Colbert, director of the Department of Job and Family Services.

Experts estimate that providing better support to the 24,000 young people nationally who age out of foster care could save more than $5.7 billion over their lifetimes.

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