Every day this week, we will provide a in-depth look into the needs of youth in foster care.
Oscar describes himself as the “average teenager.” He is 19 years old and takes college courses at the University of Nebraska at Omaha. However, Oscar has faced numerous challenges in his life. He was placed in the foster care system when he was 11 and aged out last year, on his 19th birthday.
Up until he turned 19, Oscar was assured by the professionals on his case that the Former Ward program would be available to help him further his education and access housing when he aged out of the system. Two weeks after his 19th birthday, however, Oscar was informed that he had been disqualified from the Former Ward program due to a technicality. Oscar’s guardianship had been dissolved months earlier, but he was still staying with his former guardian when he turned 19. Although this placement was no longer a guardianship, DHHS determined this to disqualify Oscar from the program under the requirement that youth be in out-of-home care at the time of discharge. Had he moved out even a week before his birthday, this likely wouldn’t have been an issue.
Oscar is now on his own without the support and assistance he was counting on. Sadly, many youth encounter similar barriers when applying for the Former Ward program. Nebraska needs a more flexible and expansive program to provide youth like Oscar with the support and assistance necessary to guide their transition into adulthood. Offering extended foster care services for youth who age out of care would fill in many of the gaps that currently exist in the Former Ward program and reach some of these excluded populations.
Oscar, along with three other young adults who aged out of foster care, testified at the hearing for LB 1150 on February 2nd and shared their perspectives on the need for additional support and resources for this population. From their stories, it is clear that Nebraska must make a commitment to doing a better job of guiding 19-year-olds through what may be the most important transition of their lives.