Friday, November 02, 2007

Please support the Boxer Bill

Picture of Mark Kroner of Lighthouse Youth Services, who is one of my personal heroes!

For most young people,
graduating from high school marks an important step forward in their life as young adults.

But for young people aging out of the foster care system, this transition can result in a step back into their abusive pasts.

With no support available, they have no other option than to return to their families - the same families from which they were originally removed due to abuse or neglect.

If the state is a parent, during the ‘young adult’ stage of life, this parent often goes AWOL, and young people emerging from the foster care system find themselves being abandoned once more.

Mark Kroner of Lighthouse Youth Services recently wrote Senator George Voinovich, urging him to consider co-sponsoring Senator Barbara Boxer’s legislative initiative, The Foster Care Continuing Opportunities Act, S1512.

The Boxer bill recommends extending the foster care system until age 21. Many other states have already done this, thereby taking better care of their older foster youth than we are in Ohio.

After running an Ohio Independent Living program for youth aging out of the foster care system for the past 21 years, Mark Kroner has worked with thousands of youth in this situation. He knows beyond the shadow of a doubt that these young people are not ready to take over full responsibility for themselves at age 18, as is the current reality in Ohio.

Statistically, half of young adults ages 18-24 in the general population in the United States live at home with their parents, according Children's Rights. And yet every year, 20,000 of the 542,000 children in foster care nationwide "age out" of foster care and are expected to transition successfully to the adult world.

Supporting foster youth until age 21 isn’t just ethical – it is also practical.

A 2005 report by the Chapin Hall Center for Children at the University of Chicago found that young people who were allowed to remain in foster care beyond the age of 18 were 200 % more likely to be working toward completion of a high school diploma and 300% more likely to be in college. They were also more likely to be insured, have better mental health and far less likely to be victims or perpetrators of crime and violence.

As a former foster child, who aged out of foster care at age 16 without family support, I am fully in support of the following recommendations by Lighthouse Family Services:

1.) Young people aging out of foster care should be offered a continuum of child welfare living arrangement options, including scattered site apartments, supervised apartments, host homes, dormitories and subsidized housing.

2.) Recommendations regarding ongoing housing for youth in transition include:

* Local control of funding to decide what is best for its community

* State licensing of agencies to provide housing with Child Welfare System oversight of individual housing choices

* Flexible housing options: the creation of local housing continuums based on local realities

* Geographic flexibility: the ability for youth to live in neighborhoods of their choosing

* Second moves/chances to try again after an eviction or discharge from care

* The ability to return to a variety of living arrangements at any time until age 21

* The ability for youth to take over lease/remain in current living arrangement after discharge

* Realistic planning and expectations/individualized rules

* Collaboration with MH, MRDD, CD, Correctional systems

* Movement into Shelter Plus Care for people with MH issues

* A local transition planning committee who oversees the entire transition system and pushes for needed changes

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