Written by: Penny Combs, Community Liaison
For many years I have called youth to ask how they are doing after leaving People Places. It is always a joy to talk and to let them know that we care enough to follow up. I have been thrilled to hear about a marriage, the completion of school, or the job they just started. A memory stands out of a former foster youth CALLING ME on the day he graduated high school to say that he was the first in his family ever to get a diploma. I smiled for a week hearing this news!
There have also been youth who were struggling after “aging out” of foster care at 18. Those stories saddened me greatly and were unfortunately, far too common. Getting out on your own and working toward independence is challenge even in the best of circumstances. It often takes family support and a series of trial and error efforts.
I have never understood how those youth can be expected to do something that the most advantaged youth struggle with.
Youth “aging out” of foster care at age 18 has been a huge concern; approximately 500 youth in Virginia aged out of care annually prior to July 1, 2016. Nationally, youth aging out of care at 18 faced higher rates of unemployment, homelessness, early parenting, dependence on public assistance, lack of education, and involvement with the criminal justice system. For several years, People Places and other youth advocates have urged the legislature to give foster youth who turn 18, the ability to move gradually towards becoming self-sufficient.
Last July, finally, something happened, and changes were made for the better. Youth in foster care, who turned 18 that day (or since), have been able to enroll in a program to grow towards independence in a supported and planned manner until their 21st birthday. Youth advocates, and all of us at People Places, celebrate the long awaited Fostering Futures program!
This sensitive and well-written process encourages every eligible youth to utilize their unique abilities toward goals THEY identify. These foster care alumni have a place to live while they finish school and develop a plan for higher education, technical schooling, finding a job, landing a paid internship, taking an apprenticeship, or joining a work study program by age 21.
Fostering Futures is intended to be flexible and youth-friendly. The entire goal is to increase the number of youth who work towards a meaningful plan of transition. Case Workers meet monthly with each youth regarding their individualized plan to become self-sufficient so that these young adults can thrive and reach back out for more support if needed.
Eligibility criteria are broad and inclusive of youth turning 18 in care. Supporting these foster care alumni in their journey to become successful, happy adults is the ultimate goal. Now, Fostering Futures provides the tools to make it happen!
I celebrate this great change and urge all youth in care to take advantage of the additional opportunities available once they turn 18. This is an excellent program for some of our most vulnerable youth…and for the future of Virginia.
I smile every time a youth grabs on to this opportunity! Please share this information as often as possible.
Details: Contact the Department of Social Services or a People Places’ Family Consultant.