Florida lawmakers are hoping to make kids who age out of the foster care system self-sufficient when they go out on their own. A bill that aims to do just that passed with bipartisan support Wednesday in a House budget panel.
Today, there’s about 3,000 young adults aging out of the foster care system, and are in a program called “Road-To-Independence.” That program allows these kids to get financial assistance.
To be eligible, the young adult must be a former foster kid, must be at least 18, and either enrolled in high school or have earned a high school diploma.
But, Florida Department of Children and Families Secretary David Wilkins says a lot of these kids don’t have the tools needed to go out into society, and he hopes a new measure will fix that glitch in the system.
“The issue with the ‘Road to Independence Program’ as defined today is all children at 18 age out of foster care. So, now this bill creates a choice for the child—that if they do not have a high school education or GED, they can stay in foster care now up to 21. If they are ready to go to college or vocational training, then they go into the ‘Road to Independence Program.’ So, it creates two different tracks for the individuals,” said Wilkins.
The bill essentially extends the age for those out of the foster care system from 18 to 21. And, it directs the Department of Children and Families to make sure there are services for older children in foster care to transition to become more self-sufficient. It also includes an increase in pay for foster parents to teach life-skills to their foster kids. The bill’s sponsor is Republican Representative Keith Perry of Gainesville.
“There is very little oversight or accountability into this process. What this bill does is that it puts more controls into the system, which we believe will lead to better outcomes. And, if you think about some of these kids, they come from troubled, difficult paths. Some of them even traumatic past,” said Perry.
And, one person who knows what that’s like is Manushka Gilet.
“I’m in foster care because I was sexually abused by my father. For me, it’s difficult all of sudden to have to be 18 and all of a sudden go out into the world and deal with people. It’s hard,” said Gilet.
Gilet has been in foster care for about a year, but the 17-year-old says for her, it seems like a lifetime.
In a few months, Gilet will be 18, and she says she feels the current foster care system hasn’t prepared her for what’s ahead.
“Right now, in foster care, there’s not that much support. Everything I’m going to have to figure out on my own. I’m going to be out there on my own with no one there to help me, or show me how to budget or how to find a place to live. I’m going to have to decide these things for myself,” said Gilet.
"Expanding foster care to 21 allows us to be able to grow and focus on our school, and learn what to do. Aging out at 18, you’re not fully an adult. You’re not fully prepared. Quite frankly, I’m scared, but hopefully things will turn out great for me.”
Another girl who’s been in the foster care system is Ti’erra Carter. She’s been in the system for more than 10 years, and she says she’s never had a stable life. Then, when she turned 18, she was still in high school, and she had to learn how to become self-sufficient on her own. But, Carter says while’s she’s overcome her tough time, it will still be great to know that there is something to help foster kids like her.
“So, I stand before you today as an honor graduate who will attend University of West Florida in the fall to major in biology to become an internal medicine doctor. I ask for your support on this bill because it’s not easy. It’s not easy to live on your own at 18 while you’re in school. No child should ever have to do that. All I ask is you consider our stories and try to think of what we’ve gone through,” said a tearful Carter.
The bill passed 11 to 1 with bipartisan support in the House Health Care Appropriations Subcommittee Wednesday. The lone dissenting vote was the panel’s chairman, Republican Representative Matt Hudson. The measure has one more stop to go before it heads for a Floor vote.
Meanwhile, its Senate companion has two more committee stops before it heads to the Senate Floor.
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