Tuesday, September 09, 2008

Aging Out of Foster Care in Connecticut

After a keynote address that I gave to an audience of youth from all over the nation at the 2008 NILA conference, highlighting some of the best practices to Change the Odds from across the nation...

... a foster care alumna named Krystal came up to me and said: "Hey, you left my state out!"

I spent time with her and the other people from her group and learned about all sorts of wonderful initiatives in Connecticut. Here are four of the many things that I learned...

1.) Education
Because Connecticut youth can stay in foster care until age 23, they can continue to receive educational support to receive their Masters degree. This, to me, is a powerful incentive to take a full course load and make good grades, in order to graduate college on time and then immediately enter graduate school.

It also gives foster care youth with mental health challenges and substance abuse histories some extra time to “find the right fit” at college.

2.) Housing
The regional offices work with vendors to provide youth with a vacuum, food allowance and start-up supplies.

3.) Vital Documents
The goal is for young people to know how to drive before aging out of foster care. The state pays half the cost of driver’s education classes. When the youth age out of care, they sign for themselves to get a drivers license.

It’s part of their case plan for youth to leave with:
- An original copy of their birth certificate and Social Security card
- A drivers license (to sign for selves immediately upon discharge)
- A copy of their immunization records

4.) Youth Advisory Boards
Connecticut has 13 regional offices, and 9 of these regions have youth advisory boards. They meet once per month. Then, they are all invited to the quarterly statewide meetings at the Commissioner's Office, where youth are able to have dialogue with the commissioner.

Lawsuits as change-makers?

The American Civil Liberties Union sued Connecticut, and charged that the state had failed to adequately protect abused and neglected children. The state’s child welfare system was put under outside supervision.

The state of Connecticut was required to “pay for and fund the costs for the establishment, implementation, compliance, maintenance and monitoring of all mandates in this consent decree" as well as all directives by the supervising panel.

In the same way that deaths and lawsuits are the primary way that foster care issues come to public attention, sometimes it takes mandates and a Consent Decree to propel a child welfare system towards reform. This is something that breaks my heart - but I cannot deny its reality.

My hope is that my state and many others can learn from Connecticut's reform efforts and dedicate our time and effort to creating similar programs and resources in our area.

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