Don’t abandon foster kids — help them thrive,0,4992019.story

Don’t abandon foster kids — help them thrive

February 5, 2012

Imagine abused youngsters growing up in Florida’s foster care system somehow morphing into mature adults living independent lives by age 21. Statistics and countless studies show this idyllic notion borders on wishful thinking. Unfortunately, some prominent legislators in the state capital are banking on this illusion.

A committee bill moving through the Florida House proposes to drop the age cut-off from 23 to 21 for older foster kids participating in the Road to Independence program. That’s the state-funded program designed to help troubled youngsters live on their own once they become too old for foster-care benefits.

Budget savings? The estimated $11 million age-reduction proponents hope to save could lead to costly expenditures in other parts of the budget, such as prison and mental-health services.

The young adults served by the Road to Independence will face difficulties if participants are suddenly turned loose at 21 after years of living in foster care. According to survey data collected for the Florida Department of Children & Families, only 26 percent of foster-care kids turning 18 had completed 12th grade or obtained their GED. That figure increased to 38 percent, a statistic that still doesn’t shout success.

Beyond that, the House measure knocks the state out of contention for roughly $3.4 million of federal funds this year and almost $7 million from Washington the following year. For a state that continues to struggle in balancing its budget, leaving that much money on the table to pay for such a worthy program is unconscionable.

Fortunately, the Florida House has a better alternative in a bill from the Senate. SB 434, sponsored by South Florida Democrat Nan Rich, does more than simply dump foster-care youths to save money, while saving the state money it now spends on the Road to Independence program.

The Senate bill provides enough state funding so that Florida could obtain federal matching funds. As important, it also allows youngsters enrolled in college to continue receiving foster care benefits until age 23, the age closer to the time most students graduate from college. The bill caps foster care benefits at age 21 for those youth who aren’t in college, saving the state a little more than $4 million, and the measure contains provisions to help foster-care youth maintain more stability in obtaining their high-school diplomas.

Rich’s bill outweighs the arbitrary cost-cutting exercise of the House version. Unfortunately, it’s stalled by House Republicans who seem more interested in denying Rich a rare Democratic victory, even though her measure sailed through the state Senate with overwhelming bipartisan support.

Politics aside, SB 434 is a good bill that deserves passage. No reasonable parent would arbitrarily pull the rug out from other their aspiring offspring at age 21. Neither should the Florida House when it comes to wards of the state.

Copyright © 2012, Orlando Sentinel


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Alexia Nechayev

FYS Events & Meeting Chair
(Palm Beach)

Hello, My name is Alexia Nechayev. I am 25 years old and I am an alumna of Florida International University where I received my B.A. in Psychology. My future career goal is to be a Lawyer. I was in care for about one year from age 17 to 18. Prior to entering care, I only knew about the negative stigma regarding foster care and while in care that narrative was unfortunately my experience.

In school I felt like I was on display because my status in care was broadcast to other students and in my placement behavior was leveraged for “privileges” that should be a natural right of all children. Because I did not know my rights I did not know that what I was experiencing was wrong. Today this is exactly why I advocate, because I don’t want this to be the same for other youth who are experiencing foster care.

This is my second year on the FYS Statewide Board and I’m happy to be the Events and Meetings Chair this year because my main goal through advocacy is to reach as many people as possible. My favorite thing as a board member is to see how comfortable members become while working together. The community needs to know that youth in foster care are real people, going through some of the hardest moments of their life and youth need to know that their voice is powerful. I believe that we have to speak up and bring these issues to people’s attention so that they do not forget us. Advocacy, education and consistency is the only way.

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