As the Nebraska Legislature moves forward with reform of our broken child welfare system, much focus has rightly been on the “front door” of the system. One group that hasn’t been talked about as much are the young people who age out the “back door” of the system and how they fare as they make this transition.
Today, Nebraska Appleseed’s Amy West testified before the Legislature’s Health and Human Services Committee at a legislative hearing as part of LR 537, introduced by Senator Amanda McGill, on extending services and support to the age of 21 for youth who age out of the foster system. Read Amy’s full testimony. Youth who have experience in the foster care system also testified before the Committee.
The transition to adulthood isn’t an easy process for any young person. Most 19-year-olds are able to fall back on their biological family if an emergency arises or if they need a warm place to sleep. Unfortunately, those who age out of foster care often do not have the same luxury. For these young people, the resources are fewer, the support systems are often smaller, and this transition is even more difficult.
Right now, Nebraska has a program to offer support to youth who leave foster care called the Former Ward program. However, only 35 percent of youth who exited foster care in 2011 received any kind of services from the Former Ward program. A recent federal law would allow our state to be more flexible and inclusive in offering these necessary services to young people during a critical time in their lives and receive federal matching funds to do so.
Many youth with experience in the foster system, as well as child welfare stakeholders, provided feedback on this opportunity in a new report released by Nebraska Appleseed today. In the report, “Bridging The Gap: Supporting youth in the transition from foster care to adulthood,” 83 percent of respondents said this new prospective program would be an improvement on Nebraska’s current Former Ward program and 68 percent of the youth surveyed indicated that they would prefer to participate in the prospective program.