Former Foster Youth Face Cut

January 27th, 2012 by Whitney Ray

Only three percent of kids aging out of Florida’s foster care system receive a college degree. The state pays their tuition and offers a stipend for living expenses until they turn 23. Advocates say it’s helping, but as Whitney Ray tells us, the stipend is under attack as state lawmakers try to balance the budget with two billion fewer dollars.

Derrick Riggins was first placed in foster care at two. He was beaten, sexually abused and shipped from home to home.

“I went back to my mother and then eventually around the age of 12, 13 I was placed in foster care,” said Derrick.

When he turned 18, Derrick fled, enrolled at FAMU and paid his bills with student loans. It was a struggle to make ends meet. Derrick didn’t know the state offers free tuition and a monthly stipend for living expenses to kids who aged out of the foster care system. When he found out, it made all the difference.

He graduated at 23, enrolled in grad school at FSU and received a master’s degree.

“Without that I wouldn’t be standing here today, an intern in Washington DC, working on the Senate Finance Committee, getting ready for law school. These dollars truly help,” said Derrick.

The independent living program that helped Derrick is being targeted for budget cuts. State revenues are down two billion dollars. Lowering the age limit on the stipend from 23 to 21 could save 11 million dollars.

“(for) The ones that are really succeeding it will be a disincentive and it will stop them from being able to finish,” said Christina Spudeas.

Spudeas, the Executive Director of Florida’s Children First, says the cut would pull the rug out from under students, just as they’re getting to their feet.

“That’s when they are really becoming really stable and that’s the time when they need that support just to finish that college degree,” said Supdeas.

Next Monday Children’s Week begins at the state capitol. Advocates will take their message to lawmakers hoping to save the program in a tough budget year.

Another reason advocates argue former foster kids need more time to graduate from college is because, they switch schools so many times that their academic records sometimes get lost. In many cases they don’t finish high school until they are 19 or 20.


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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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