A new foster care program implemented statewide Jan. 1 aims to provide support to a group of young people otherwise at risk of falling through the cracks.
Dubbed “Foster Care 18 to 21,” young adults who might otherwise age out of foster care at age 18 now have access to foster care specially tailored for their age group.
“We’re excited about the opportunity to serve any young adult who wants to continue partnering with us for success,” said Nikki Hull, program manger for Surry County Department of Social Services.
“This program will help young adults to develop the skills they need to live independently and do so successfully,” said Brandy Wilkins, who is a county social worker.
Foster Care 18 to 21 will provide each participating youth with a social worker to provide support and guidance as well as monthly maintenance payments.
“These payments could be used to pay for room and board with a licensed foster parent, child placement agency or foster care facility,” Wilkins said. “They could be paid directly to the young adult or a rental agency/landlord. They can also be used for any type of living expenses such as room and board, rent, transportation costs, educational supplies.”
Only those in foster care on their 18th birthday who are between the ages of 18 to 21 are eligible for the program.
To participate, the young adult must also enter into a voluntary placement agreement with county social services, agree to reside in an approved placement and meet one of the following eligibility requirements:
• Enrolled in high school, a high school graduation equivalency program, post-secondary or vocational institution
• In a program or activity that promotes or removes barriers to employment
• Employed for at least 80 hours per month
• Incapable of completing educational or employment requirements due to medical disability
Within those parameters, “they get to have a voice in it,” in terms of deciding where to live and how to proceed, Hull said, without being completely on their own.
“The goal of the program is transitioning to being self-sufficient. We want them to have goals,” she said. “It gives them a little bit of a safety net here.”
N.C. Rep. Sarah Stevens, R-90, who was involved with creating the new program, said legislators worked with several kids within the foster care system who had aged out to determine what kinds of things would improve their chances of success.
“The state has programs that will pay for a college education, but if they don’t have support, if they don’t have a place to come home to, they really can’t take advantage of that,” Stevens explained. “We’re trying to put a lot more tools in their tool shed.”
Stevens said other foster care expansion efforts gave licensed foster parents the power to grant consent on behalf of the children placed in their homes.
Previously, foster parents could not sign permission slips for the children in their care to participate in things like sports and field trips.
Foster Care 18 to 21 more closely mimics the transition to adulthood experienced by most youths.
For those who age out of foster care at 18 without permanent placement, “you went from having a social worker who made decisions for you and with you,” to expected to fully navigate adulthood on their own, Hull said.
Budgeting or finding a place to live are examples of things those taking advantage with the expanded system can find support, the kind of things young adults who live with their natural family might not have to do on their own,” Hull said.
The number of youths who may be affected is “fortunately, in our county, relatively small,” she said.
Five youths have aged out of the foster care system within the last three years. Those youth now have unlimited re-entry into the program.
Within the next five years there is a potential of 14 children who will also age out of the foster care system at age 18.
“There is going to be some impact on our caseload,” Hull said, adding that it’s so new it’s difficult at this point to predict the impact.
“The program is really exciting and we’re willing to do anything to make it work,” she said. “We’re dedicated to success.”
Reach Terri Flagg at 415-4734.