Oscar’s Story: How a Voice Can Make a Difference

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Oscar is 20 years old and works full-time at an Omaha customer service center, part-time at a local Walgreens, and on the side with a multimedia company.  He lives with a roommate and two cats and enjoys sleeping in what little free time he has.  By all appearances, he is a typical 20-year-old.

When you dig a little deeper, however, there is more to Oscar’s story.

Oscar was placed in the foster care system when he was 11 and aged out on his 19th birthday.  To ease this significant transition, he signed up for Nebraska’s Former Ward program, which provides college-bound youth who age out of foster care (and are not adopted or in a guardianship) with continued Medicaid coverage and a monthly stipend to help with housing costs.  Unfortunately, two weeks after his 19th birthday, Oscar was informed he would not be eligible for this assistance because of a technical issue involving Oscar’s guardianship, which had been terminated several months earlier.

Oscar is not the first young person to encounter barriers to accessing Former Ward services, and even those who are accepted into the program struggle with maintaining access.  See our recent Bridging the Gap report for additional details about these barriers.

Fortunately, there is a happier ending to this particular story.  When Oscar learned he was being denied services, he contacted a higher-up DHHS representative to see if anything could be done.  Although there was no immediate resolution, Oscar continued talking about his situation, including sharing his story at the hearing for LB 1150 in February 2012.

Nebraska Appleseed took an interest in Oscar’s case around this time, as we had heard several concerning stories from the field about Former Ward denials.  Appleseed’s Child Welfare Team worked with Oscar to gather old documents and files, including his denial notice, and then requested that DHHS’s Legal Services department take another look at Oscar’s case.  To their credit, DHHS recognized that they had made an error in determining that Oscar was ineligible for services and remedied the situation by providing back pay to Oscar.

There is a two-fold moral to this story.

First, it is important for young people to know that speaking up and speaking out really CAN make a difference.  Had Oscar just accepted his denial and not continued using his voice in advocating for himself and others in similar situations, he would never have reached such a desirable end result.  Appleseed will continue working to ensure that all young people in foster care know their rights.  For starters, information about the appeal process is available here.

Second, Oscar’s story adds to the growing evidence of the need to revamp the way we provide services to youth transitioning out of foster care.  LB 216, the Young Adult Voluntary Services and Support Act, was introduced by Senator Amanda McGill on January 15 in recognition of this need.  This bill would take advantage of a recent federal law by creating a system of extended services and support that would better meet the needs of this population in a more flexible, inclusive, and age-appropriate way.

LB 216 has not yet come out of committee.  Contact a member of the HHS Committee today and ask them to help remove barriers for youth transitioning from foster care to adulthood by advancing LB 216.

Appleseed is greatly appreciative of both Senator McGill’s commitment to older youth in foster care and Oscar’s bravery in continuing to share his story.   We look forward to furthering our work with both the Senator and young people across the state in advocating that Nebraska improve its system of care for older youth aging out.

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