LB 216, introduced by Senator McGill, would remove barriers facing young people who age out of foster care by extending voluntary services and support to the age of 21. The bill would also extend adoption and guardianship subsidies for those who were adopted or entered a guardianship at age 16 or older.
The morning kicked off with a press conference involving two members of Project Everlast, Mickey and Amanda. Other speakers included Nebraska Appleseed’s Sarah Helvey and Mary Fraser Meints, Executive Director of Youth Emergency Services.
At the public hearing for LB 216 later that day, Mickey and Amanda were joined by fellow Project Everlast member Kristina, who testified before the Health and Human Services Committee of the Legislature to ask them to advance the bill.
Kristina was in the foster care system from age 4 to 19. She is now 20 years old, a proud mother of a toddler, and a self-described straightforward person. And she is tired of seeing youth living on the street before their 21st birthday. To her, LB 216 would give the sense of permanency that many youth aging out currently don’t have. Providing these critical services during the transition period would level the playing field and offer a safety net for those who are left on their own at 19 without the support of a legal, permanent family. “I’m going to be straightforward again,” Kristina warns at the end of her testimony. “The reality is, if there were only a couple of kids like me, there would be no reason for this bill. But there are thousands.”
Four years ago, Mickey, now age 22, aged out of the foster care system. She immediately began attending college, with the support of the Former Ward program, and believed she had everything handled. However, Mickey encountered a series of barriers and ended up losing Former Ward assistance, forcing her to work two full-time jobs and become homeless. She was one of the lucky ones who had a support system in place to help her get back on her feet, and she will soon graduate with a Bachelor’s Degree in Social Work. LB 216 would prevent this turnaround from being a matter of luck and instead make it a point of practice. In the words of Mickey herself, “Let’s make a successful youth a rule, not an exception.”
Amanda, age 23, counted down the days until she turned 19 and could leave the foster care system. This excitement soon turned to a sense of fear and uncertainty. On her 19th birthday, Amanda lost all of the support she had received during her teenage years. “The lights went out,” and she had to find her own way through the dark. Like Mickey, Amanda entered college with a good foundation: a job, an apartment, and even some savings. Also like Mickey, Amanda soon encountered several barriers and, without anyone to help her find the lightswitch, she had to quit school and begin living paycheck to paycheck. Amanda persevered and refused to give up, and she is now working at a job she loves in a local art studio. She believes LB 216 would help young people who age out avoid similar struggles by providing them with positive opportunities they don’t currently have. “It’s not a free handout,” says Amanda. “It’s a helping hand up.”
LB 216 is scheduled to be debated by the Legislature this week. This bill provides Nebraska with a golden opportunity to improve outcomes for hundreds of young people, and we cannot let that moment pass. With all of the other reform initiatives being considered by the Legislature, this is a program that has been well established by research, collaboratively developed by a wide array of youth and stakeholders, and strongly supported by the young people it intends to help.
Contact your state senator today and ask them to remove barriers for youth transitioning from foster care to adulthood by supporting LB 216.
LB 216 is a good investment in the futures of our young people and our state, and we thank Senator McGill for her continued leadership on this issue.