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Young Girls In State Care To Get Transitional Home

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Construction is slated to begin soon on the Caribbean’s first independent living complex for wards of the State, following Friday’s official groundbreaking ceremony at 24 Lady Musgrave Drive, New Kingston.

Upon completion, the facility will be equipped to house at lease 40 young women who have reached the age of 18, when, by law, they are required to leave their places of safety, irrespective of whether they have a job or place to live.

Under the Transitional Living Program for Children in State Care, these young women will spend up to two additional years in the care of the state.

Dr Luz Longsworth, principal of the Open Campus of the University of the West Indies (UWI), used the groundbreaking ceremony to announce the gift of 30 one-year scholarships to the pioneer residents of the complex. Another 15 such scholarships will be provided to young men, also wards of the state, at the tertiary level as well.

Luis Moreno, United States ambassador to Jamaica, gave a commitment that his country would fund a similar facility for young men, to be built in Manning, St Elizabeth. The United States Agency for International Development is funding the Kingston facility at a cost of US$1.45 million under the Development Grants Program, in what Youth and Culture Minister Lisa Hanna described as a game-changing partnership.

With the Jamaican Government donating prime land space in New Kingston’s ‘Golden Triangle’, the project will be implemented through the collaborative efforts of the Caribbean Child Development Centre, Child Development Agency, the Social Welfare Centre, and the UWI Project Management Office.

Meanwhile, Rosalee Gage-Grey, chief executive officer of the Child Development Agency, spoke to the importance of this intervention.

VERY SIGNIFICANT

“It is very significant because we have about 700 children that leave care each year. Some of them are in foster care, and the foster parents will continue to keep them; some can be reintegrated with their own families. We have some who come into Kingston for tertiary education and need a place, and so it will provide a space where they can move from university to work for the period of the two years, and so its very significant,” she told The Gleaner.

“And it’s semi-independent, meaning that they will take care of themselves, with some support. So they will be comfortable with individualized spaces, and we will continue to provide the support, the life skills for them to transition successfully.”

A clearly excited Hanna gave this response when asked to gauge the significance of the new facility.

On a scale of 1-10?

“Eleven!” she answered, noting that it will address an area of need that has been neglected for too long.

“It’s a long time in the making, and its something that I’m very pleased with; conceptualized it, UWI came on board, USAID came on board, and now they’ve said to us, we are going to be working on the contract for the one for the boys in St Elizabeth. We gave the land, UWI is giving the social work and the training, USAID is putting up the money, so there is a lot of equity going into this,” she added.

However, the youth minister would not commit to the completion timeline for the Kingston facility or the start-up for the one slated for St Elizabeth.

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Church hopes to match kids with foster families

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WAYNESBORO — Sonya Payne remembers her best birthday ever.

It was in 2010, the day she legally adopted her foster daughter Ariel Simone Payne, 16.

Ariel wasn’t the first child that Payne has fostered. In fact, Payne estimates that she’s legally fostered 40 children since 1993, and taken in over 70, even if only temporarily.

“That’s why we call her superwoman,” said Ariel’s adoptive sister Taimonique Payne, 15 and a half years old.

Payne decided to become a foster parent while working with battered women, and seeing the effect it had on both the women and children.

“It was too much,” Payne said. “I told my husband, we have to do something to help these kids.”

She read about her first foster child in the newspaper in 1993 and the rest is history.

Even with families like the Paynes, there are still local children in the foster care system that do not currently have homes and are at risk of aging out of the system, which severely affects their chances of success once they become adults, said Jennifer Eccles, foster parent and member of the mission team at First Baptist Church in Waynesboro. There are 163 kids in foster homes locally, but 14 that don’t have somewhere to call home.

That’s why the church decided to hold a summit about foster care, with a panel of foster care workers, parents and adopted teenagers, to inform the community about the need for more participation in the foster care system.

The summit was Sunday afternoon and about 25 people attended, Eccles said.

“The church feels very strongly that we have a calling to help these kids in our community,” said the mom of six. “They need families.”

One of the main focuses of the summit was on the need for care for older children and children with siblings, specifically, Eccles said. Removing the stigma that older children come with more problems is key.

“This is not about bad behavior,” Eccles said of why children end up in the foster care system. “It’s because of abuse or neglect.”

Both Ariel and Taimonique spoke about being adopted and what they would tell other foster parents if they could.

“Never give up on your adopted kids,” Taimonique said. They may have difficult behavior and difficulty adjusting, but never to give up.

For more information about foster parenting call Jennifer Edson or Heather Hudnall at Shenandoah Valley Social Services at 540-245-5800.

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#URGENT AAP Care Recommendations for Foster Care Children

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Despite having resources available to provide for their healthcare needs, a vast number of children in foster care are not receiving adequate medical care.

Given that children in foster care are prone to physical, mental health, developmental, and psychosocial impairment, it is critical that pediatricians claim their role as advocate for this population, according to a new report from the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP).

Recommended: Teaching kids to cope with stress

According to the updated position paper from the AAP on healthcare issues for children in foster care, 641,000 entered into foster care for some period of time in 2013—a figure that peaked at more than 814,000 children in 2002—and those children have a wide range of needs.

“The majority of children entering foster care have lived in deprived and chaotic environments for a significant period of time until removal for imminent safety concerns secondary to maltreatment,” states lead author Moira A Szilagyi, MD, PhD, a professor of pediatrics at the University of California at Los Angeles. “More than 70%
of children in foster care have
a documented history of child abuse and/or neglect, and more than 80% have been exposed to significant levels of violence, including domestic violence. In addition, even before entering foster care, many children have experienced multiple caregivers, limiting their ability to form a stable attachment to a nurturing caregiver. Removal is emotionally traumatizing for almost all children, although for some, it is the first time they may feel safe.”

Pediatricians are uniquely qualified in these situations to offer medical assessment and intervention for the child; mental and psychosocial counseling; education for caregivers; and to advocate for the best interests of the patient. The child in foster care will enter a pediatrician’s practice with a host of unmet healthcare needs precipitated in traumatic histories and inadequate access to care, Szilagyi says. The problem is so extensive that AAP has begun to classify children in foster care as a population with special healthcare needs, she adds.

“Overall, 30% to 80% of children come into foster care with at least 1 medical problem, and one-third have a chronic medical condition. It is common for such problems to have gone undiagnosed and untreated before these children enter foster care,” she says. “Up to 80% of children and adolescents enter with a significant mental health need, and almost 40% have significant oral health issues. Approximately 60% of children aged younger than 5 years have developmental health issues, and more than 40% of school-aged children have educational difficulties.”

More: Cutaenous clues of child abuse

Szilagyi also pointed out in the study that foster children are 3 times more likely to drop out of high school compared to other low-income children, and slightly more than 50% graduate high school—most often with an equivalency diploma. Beyond schooling, Szilagyi says data suggests that children who were in foster care during their adolescence grow up to experience higher rates of mental health problems, homelessness, posttraumatic stress disorder, and low educational achievement.

Despite the clear need for intervention, however, data suggests that only a fraction of children in foster care are receiving the help they need before, during, and after entering the foster care system.

According to a 2013 report by the Council of Family and Child Caring Agencies and the New York State Health Foundation, children in foster care are receiving minimal care in many cases, and outcomes are generally unavailable for those that do receive care. National data on healthcare frequency in foster children is lacking, but the New York report provides a snapshot.

According to the New York report, a mere 15.7% of children had a preventive care visit with a physician in the 12 months prior to their entry into foster care. Statewide, the number rose to 31.9%. Once children were placed into foster care, the frequency of visits appeared to increase, but not by much. According to the report, preventive visits for children increased while in foster care in New York City from 15.7% to 25.2%, and from 31.9% to 36.5% across the entire state. After exiting foster care, however, the frequency of preventive visits dropped down further than before—to 11.9% in New York City and 25.4% statewide in the year after exit from foster care.

Where visits were higher were in emergency visits—42.8% of children in New York City and 40.4% statewide had at last 1 visit to an emergency department (ED) in the year before entering foster care. Those visits dropped by 38.8% and 30.9%, respectively in the year the children were in foster care, but dropped further in the year after exit from foster care, with 22.3% visiting EDs in New York City and 27.6% statewide.

For infants, the most common reason for an ED visit was childbirth, indicating a high number of deliveries occurred through the ED.

More: Docs often overlook chuld sex trafficking victims

In terms of inpatient stays, a top reason children in foster care are admitted to hospitals is for treatment of mental health conditions. Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder was the top diagnosis for children aged 1 to 5 years, followed by bipolar disorder. For children aged 6 years and older, bipolar and depressive disorders are top admitting diagnoses. Infants also were frequently admitted for respiratory problems, while toddlers and preschool-aged children were commonly hospitalized for injuries and asthma.

The most recent national data on healthcare compliance among children in foster care is from the 1990s, Szilagyi says, when the Government Accountability Office released a “scathing” report on the state of healthcare compliance in foster care.

At the time of the report, the number of children in foster care more than doubled over the previous 5 years but was still half of what it is today. The review at the time found that, despite resources being made available to provide healthcare services for children in foster care, roughly 12% of young children in foster care received no routine health care; 34% were not immunized; at least 32% had unmet healthcare needs; and an estimated 78% were at risk for human immunodeficiency virus but only 9% had been screened for infection. Another 62% of children in foster care were estimated to be at risk for health problems related to prenatal drug use, the report states.

Pediatricians play a big role in providing caregivers—who come to foster care with a wide range of experiences and skills—with education and support to connect them with the services they need and to emphasize the importance or regular, timely healthcare intervention.

To address these healthcare needs, and the special circumstances involving children in foster care, AAP’s updated statement places greater emphasis on early childhood trauma and its impacts on all aspects of health, including physical and mental wellness, developmental health, and how trauma becomes predictive of poor outcomes, Szilagyi says.

More: Is telemedicine good for the long haul?

If caught early while the brain is still malleable, pediatricians, through good care and good experiences, can help shift the trajectory for these children in a better direction, Szilagyi says.

“The pediatrician has both a responsibility and an opportunity to really improve outcomes for these children. It really does require some work across systems to implement everything and it requires a lot of time they might not be reimbursed for,” Szilagyi says. “However I think it’s just a really big opportunity to make a big difference in a child’s life. I really view foster care as an opportunity for healing. It’s an opportunity to make sure all their needs are assessed and they have all the services they need.”

Even in cases when children don’t require medical or psychological support upon entry to foster care, things can change quickly, Szilagyi says. Birth parents may be struggling to comply with visitation and mental health care, and noncompliance during the foster care period may negatively impact the child.

“It’s really incumbent on pediatricians to reassess them periodically,” Szilagyi says. “It’s a great thing about having a periodicity schedule in pediatrics. There is an argument for seeing these kids more frequently because they have a lot of stresses and things that can go wrong in their lives.”

By staying attuned to the needs of the children in foster care, as well as their caregivers, pediatricians can provide valuable support at the personal and population level.

Ideally, the AAP guidance recommends that all children receive a full mental health evaluation, including a trauma assessment, shortly after entering foster care. Assessing for suicide risk and acute mental health needs is a priority, but the full evaluation is probably best conducted after the child has had some time to adjust to their new living situation, Szilagyi says. Social workers and foster caregivers may not have adequate experience in caring for a child’s mental health needs, and the pediatrician can offer support and guidance. In instances where psychotropic medications are needed or have already been prescribed to a child, pediatricians must weigh the benefits of the regimen.

Recommended: Impact of health habits in adolescence

“It can be challenging to discern the appropriateness of psychotropic medication for those children with multiple mental health diagnoses. The use of psychotropic medication to manage the behavioral and mental health problems of children in foster care has come under scrutiny in recent years, as data suggest that children in foster care are prescribed psychotropic medications at a rate 3 times that of other children enrolled in Medicaid and have higher rates of polypharmacy,” according to the AAP statement. “Some children clearly benefit from psychotropic medications when appropriately prescribed, but concern exists that some children are not receiving appropriate mental health and trauma assessments before treatment and that medications are sometimes prescribed in lieu of evidence-based trauma care and other mental health interventions. …In addition, there are concerns about the effects of psychotropic medications on the developing brain as well as the adverse effects of some of these medications.”

When the use of psychotropic medications is warranted, they should be initiated at low doses and titrated slowly, with close monitoring, and no patient should receive more than one psychotropic medication from any given class, Szilagyi says.

In physical assessments, pediatricians should assess upon entry to foster care any evidence of abuse or developmental delay. Follow-up assessments should be performed within 60 to 90 days after placement and include screenings for abuse, poor weight gain, compliance with healthcare recommendations, and bonding between children and their foster caregivers.

In terms of frequency, it is recommended that children in foster care be seen monthly within the first 6 months of life, every 3 months from 6 months to 24 months of age, and then every 6 months thereafter to monitor the wide range of physical and emotional stressors the children can face within the foster care system.

Next: 5 steps to a trauma-informed practice

Pediatricians should allow additional time for assessing children in foster care due to the complex nature of their situations, and also develop an office system for communicating with caseworkers and foster caregivers following each encounter.

Even with the best efforts, however, many barriers exist to providing adequate healthcare to children in foster care, Szilagyi says. Care coordination is particularly difficult given the transient nature and diffuse authority of the foster care system. Pediatricians may also be faced with incomplete medical records, inadequate resources, and difficulty in identifying an authority to consent to health care services for the child.

“See them early, see them often, and continue to see them to monitor their progress and be an advocate when needed,” Szilagyi says. “We’re often the first real child professional that families encounter so we really have an amazing opportunity to either prevent adversity or ameliorate the impact of adversary. Sometimes that just starts with recognizing that bad things have happened and for both children and parents it can begin the healing.”

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Legislature Approves Foster Care Overhaul

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The California foster care system would be overhauled under a bill passed by the state Legislature. The measure changes the focus of the foster care system in the state..

Democratic Assemblyman Mark Stone authored the bill.

“What this bill does is move the care away from congregate care, group homes, and into more individualized care,” he says.

Stone says children may still be placed in group facilities for short periods of time. But he says they would receive intensive treatment while there. A greater effort will also be made to return children to their families or find them new permanent homes.

Foster parents will also receive more training and support.

The bill includes recommendations from a 2015 Department of Social Services report on reforming the foster care system.

It is awaiting action from the governor.

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State of emergency: Shortage of foster homes leads to separated siblings, moving far from home

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GA Foster Care

Georgia is in a “state of emergency” when it comes to foster care, and Floyd County was ranked the fifth highest county per capita for children removed from their homes, according to DFCS officials and a report from Georgia Child Welfare Measures.

Some 244 children from Floyd County were sent into foster care from April 2014 through March 2015, according to the statistics.

That state rate over that time period was 31.2 children per 10,000. Floyd County’s rate was 104.5 per 10,000.

Why is the rate so high? There are several reasons, according to local officials.

“It comes down to the fact that we are looking more,” said Floyd County Juvenile Court Judge Greg Price. “We have two hospitals and many medical professionals who are required to report suspicious things. We have a high number of teachers and law enforcement as well.”

These individuals are trained to notice signs of trouble, he added.

“When you’re a mechanic trained to fix problems on VWs, when you drive down the road, you’re going to see the VWs first,” explained Price.

Another issue is cyclical abuse and neglect, according to Price and Lindsey Howerton, director of the Floyd County Division of Family and Children Services.

“We have many families who repeat the cycle of abuse and neglect,” she said. “They stay here. Their children have children, and it keeps going and no one breaks the pattern.”

The reasons for the removal of children from their homes covers a wide range, with 120 removed for neglect, 80 removed because their parents were abusing drugs or alcohol, 52 removed because parents were unable to cope, 88 removed for inadequate housing, 30 were abandoned and 32 were victims of physical abuse. Other reasons include sexual abuse, domestic violence or because parents are incarcerated.

Howerton said the specific reasons stated can be misleading.

“Many times, when we investigate further, we may find signs of physical or sexual abuse when the child was originally removed for neglect or drug abuse,” she said. “This is especially true for a younger child who is not in school. If that child is only going to the doctor once a year, it is much harder to catch.”

A major crisis situation arises after these children are removed, because Floyd County only has 16 DFCS foster homes.

“This often results in our children being placed out of county, which causes all kinds of problems,” she said. “The children have a harder time coming back for court dates and for visits with their families. Also, you have the added trauma for the child, which is just increased by them having to completely relocate and have nothing familiar around them.”

DFCS always tries to help the families, she added, and this is made more difficult when the child is miles away.

“Our main goal when a child is removed from a home is to work with the parents to help them change behaviors if possible and bring their child home,” Howerton said. “Having to place that child in a home in Macon just makes it that much harder on everyone.”

So, the first thing DFCS does is try to find a qualified family member or family friend who can take the child. This is the best option, but sometimes is impossible because they might not live in the area or may be unsuitable.

Issues also often arise because of siblings, she said.

“We have a lot of multiple-child families, and the ideal would be to have those siblings together or at least close to each other,” she said. “This becomes hard because many foster families can’t handle that many children at once.”

Floyd does have 23 homes that work with child placing agencies, such as Faith Bridge, Howerton added. However, these homes can have children who are not from Floyd County placed in them. Winshape Homes is its own entity and does work with DFCS as much as possible, she said.

“We have two large sibling groups placed with Winshape currently,” she said.

The Open Door Home is a group home and children are only placed there if they are 13 or older.

“We are always hoping that if people know there is a need, they will be willing to serve as foster families,” she said.

Potential foster families attend classes, she said. Families are taught about the process from start to finish about policies and how a child might behave.

“For instance, a child who has suffered neglect may hoard food,” she said. “I’ve had children who don’t understand or know about the bath routine and a child who had never seen a toothbrush.”

Those who want to foster are also given a home study session in which a DFCS agent comes into the home and observes the environment and the family’s interaction.

“Most understand the reasons behind this,” Howerton said. “It is all about the safety and well-being of the child. The home studies are usually completed within two or three sessions.”

Foster parents also have to undergo fingerprinting, background checks and financial checks.

“We have to make sure they can handle the extra expense,” Howerton said. “We do not so much pay as reimburse. A foster family has to be stable enough to handle extra costs like clothing, diapers and glasses, and then be reimbursed.”

Once approved, foster parents are often immediately needed.

“I’ve had families receive a child the day they were approved,” Howerton said.

About 75 percent of the 422 Floyd County children in foster care are placed outside of Floyd County, Howerton said. Of the 25 percent here, the majority are placed with family members.

These numbers frustrate Howerton, she said.

“I would love to put myself out of a job,” she said. “We are trying to build strong families in a strong community. When it comes to foster care in this county and this state, we are in a state of emergency.”

Hand for Hope National Adoption Awareness Month

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This month is National Adoptions Awareness Month. This year’s National Adoption Month initiative emphasizes the importance of sibling connections for the 102,000 children and youth in foster care waiting for adoptive families. Please support the movement and cause together we can make a change.
Good morning Foster Care Kids Need Love Too Family! Foster Care Kids Need love Too® provides community education, public policy/advocacy and direct services for children and youth who have been removed from the care of their parents to the supervision of the state. The organization recruits and sustains volunteers who serve in public and private agencies or work on projects designed to enhance the lives of foster, homeless, transitional and incarcerated children and youth.

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Many Homeless Adults Start their Journey in Foster Care

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Foster care placement is one of the childhood risk factors, which predicts adult homelessness. A mother with a childhood history of foster care is far more likely to become homeless than one who has never entered the foster care system.

Darlesha Joyner is one such mother who comprises more than 6,500 District residents without permanent homes.

“I’m tired and frustrated,” said Joyner, 22, who entered Maryland’s foster care system at 14 years old. Her 18-month-old son rested on her hip with his legs akimbo. “My issue is not only with living in the shelter but even before. I don’t want to be here.”

Since January, Joyner, a mother of two, has lived in the old D.C. General Hospital, which was repurposed as a family shelter in Southeast. Recent reports indicate it houses 284 families with nearly 600 children, more than half of them under the age of 12.

Joyner experienced a series of losses over a short time. At four years old, her mother died. Her father followed at seven. One grandmother died when she was 10 and another at 14. Since the age of seven, she was bounced around by family members, living from house to house, until she entered foster care, the native Washingtonian said.

“My family said I was hard headed,” said Joyner who has a learning disability. At 18, she emancipated herself by leaving the foster care system, got into domestic violence situations, lived in hallways and slept outdoors.

She joined several persons who testified at Ward 1 Council member Jim Graham’s public oversight hearing on D.C. General’s services and management onsite at the shelter on Feb. 28.

“These children are wards of the city and we have special responsibility for them,” said Graham, chair of the Committee on Human Services with oversight authority over D.C. General. “In the process, we become their parents, and we should anticipate their needs when they’re emancipated.”

One woman revealed she was a foster child from 2 to 21 years old, and now lives at D.C. General.

The D.C. Child and Family Services Agency (CFSA), the city’s child welfare agency, reported in 2008 that more than one-third of the youth leaving the system at 21 did so with “few or none of the supports and resources … to ensure sustainable independent living.”

This vexing national problem of foster care becoming a breeding ground for future homeless adults isn’t new.

The 1994 Green Book from the U.S. House of Representatives, Committee on Ways and Means, reported that mid-1980s surveys indicated significant numbers of homeless shelter users were recently discharged from foster care. The book provides data under the committee’s jurisdiction.

Children “age out” of the system when they’re discharged from government care, between 18 and 21. As young adults, they’re forced into pseudo independence with little resources to assume adulthood.

Earlier this month, the D.C. Alliance of Youth Advocates (DCAYA), a coalition of youth-engaged organizations and residents found that 40 percent of D.C.’s homeless youth were in the foster care or juvenile justice systems.

“Young adults, under the best circumstances, don’t turn 18 or 21 years old and magically become rational, self-sufficient adults; and a history of trauma, abuse or neglect further impacts their social-emotional development,” said Maggie Riden, a DCAYA senior policy analyst at a council oversight hearing. “To achieve lasting stability, this population needs an array of supportive resources … not defined by age, but by scope of need.”

Young people in foster care leave placements due to conflicts, or they seek more familiar surroundings, Riden said.

But, to Ressurrection Graves, reasons for leaving are more ominous. She said national evidence-based studies maintained that 20 to 30 percent of children in foster care are sexually abused, which leads to early emancipation.

“Child sexual abuse has its own set of traumas, which are linked to adult homelessness,” said Graves, a child sexual abuse expert and survivor, and a homeless mother for three years. Due to her traumatic experiences Graves, who was raised in the D.C. area, will launch in August a nonprofit that offers alternative shelter solutions for those seeking transitional housing.

“The trauma of being removed from the home causes disruptions, and those build over time,” said Nicki Sanders, a Columbia, Md., social worker. “Children in foster care move on average about seven times. They have new schools, rules to follow, values, academic and social challenges. There’s instability in the life of a foster child on a consistent basis, in many cases.”

This cycle will probably continue for Joyner’s children. Her three-year-old daughter is in foster care.

“Our child and family welfare system continues to be a pipeline into homelessness and instability for hundreds of youth each year,” Riden added.

 

Support Safe Housing for All Youth Aging Out of Foster Care

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Imagine a world where your child is forced to leave your home at age 18. You can no longer provide the love, support and roof you worked so hard for throughout your child’s life. On his or her 18th birthday, your child must instantly transition into adulthood with little more than a suitcase of their belongings. Would your child be ready?

This is the reality for too many of the nearly 10,000 children and adolescents who have been removed from their families and placed in the foster care system because of abuse or neglect.  They enter the foster care system in a time of crisis only to be kicked out at age 18, unprepared for the crises to come.

It is unacceptable that in a society where approximately half of all youth live with their parents until age 24, we expect those who have experienced PTSD-inducing childhood trauma to be the ones surviving completely on their own at age 18 – with no family to fall back on when things get rough. And what happens to these youth? Study after study demonstrates that they end up homeless. In its most recent annual survey, the National Alliance to End Homelessness (NAEH) estimated that one of every eleven youth from foster care will experience being homeless.

The Mockingbird Society, in collaboration with community partners, foster parents and legislators, is laser focused on reversing the longstanding pattern of Washington discharging youth from foster care into homelessness.  This pattern is not unique to Washington. In fact, it is a national epidemic.  The NAEH has rightly identified stopping foster care systems from this practice as a key strategy for ending youth homelessness in America.

In 2006, Washington established the Foster Care to 21 pilot program thanks to forward-thinking legislators. This program allowed up to 150 youth to remain in foster care to age 21 to pursue their post-secondary education.  The evaluation results are consistent with national research as well as what most parents and grandparents might say: youth who had safe housing and other supports did significantly better than those who were literally on their own.  Not only did they reduce their negative behaviors such as stealing, early parenting, and reliance on public assistance, but they also increased their academic achievement, gained valuable work experience, and began the successful transition to healthy adulthood. In fact, for every Washington tax dollar invested in this service, our community received a return on investment of $1.35.  Ensuring youth have safe housing to utilize as a foundation for achievement makes both fiscal and common sense.

Thanks to the bi-partisan support of our Legislature, we have made great gains ensuring foster youth have the opportunity to remain in foster care to age 21.  Currently, youth who pursue their secondary or post-secondary education are eligible to remain in foster care to age 21.  But certain populations don’t get this support.

Now, we are asking our elected-leaders and community members alike to provide this opportunity to those youth who need it most. Current proposed legislation (Extended Foster Care HB 1302/SB 5405) would extend this support to the remaining youth who are not able, or not yet ready, for the educational track.  This includes youth who have serious medical issues including cognitive or physical disabilities, youth who have significant barriers to employment or academia, and youth who are working part time but still unable to afford full independence.

Earlier this year I testified in favor of HB 1302 with a courageous young man with a seizure disorder which would have qualified him for Extended Foster Care had this legislation been in effect when he turned 18. He modestly said that his condition made things more complicated after leaving care, and that pursuing his education or employment was not a realistic option for him at 18. Soon after his testimony he had a minor seizure, right in the hearing room. Are we really going to kick youth like him out at age 18?

Imagining a world where we cannot provide our children the support they need to be successful, independent adults is a nightmare. The moment the state decides to remove a child from their home, that child becomes our collective responsibility as a community. As parents, our care and support guides our own children safely into young adulthood. Our commitment should be no less for youth in foster care.

I call on legislators and community members alike to fulfill this responsibility and support Extended Foster Care, House Bill 1302 and Senate Bill 5405.