MEMPHIS, Tenn. — The transition from childhood to adulthood can be a lot to handle alone, but it’s very much a reality for people in the foster care system.
Around 20,000 age out of the system every year, and The Dave Thomas Foundation for Adoption said the willingness to adopt someone over 13 is much lower compared to pre-teens. If they do age out, people are at risk of unemployment, substance abuse and homelessness.
The federal Access To Foster Care To 21 Act hopes to change this issue, working to help places like Youth Villages guide children through the first few years of adult life.
“I will still catch myself just being amazed that I’m in college,” said Brandon Washington, who is in extended foster care.
Washington went into foster care heading into the 10th grade. He experienced a few different homes and schools, and before he knew it, it was time to graduate.
“My worker at the time, she really pushed me to finish strong,” said Washington.
He was part of the extended foster care LifeSet program at Youth Villages. Extension services in Tennessee are designed to help people like Washington find housing, independent living wrap around service, life skill classes, leadership opportunities, and any other support they need to achieve their goals.
“They kind of guide the process in what their goals are,” said Claudia Wilder, Youth Villages LifeSet Specialist. “Transition into adulthood, whatever that might mean to them.”
“They also helped me get summer housing here, which also helped me get used to Rhodes faster,” said Washington.
The new federal law opens up new criteria to help even more people qualify for extension services up until they turn 21. Originally, it only applied to people in high school, trade school, or college. The new stipulations also include anyone working 80 hours a month, anyone in the process of getting help through a program that prevents them from working, or if they have a medical condition that prevents them from working.
“Cause with some people it’s hard for them to get to and from school, or that wasn’t something that they were interested in at the time, but they did have a job, and a job was a higher priority. So now those people who do have jobs are eligible for an extension of foster care services,” said Wilder. “That might expand it from 44% of youth in Tennessee to 50%.”
The new act went into effect the first of this year, and those who have aged out are now being made aware they might qualify.
“If they have any questions on resources, we’ll be able to help them with things like that,” said Wilder.