By Nick McWherter
CAPITAL NEWS SERVICE
LANSING- Michigan kids without parents could remain in foster care until they are 21 under a set of bills before the Legislature.
Currently they have to leave when they turn 18.
The Young Adult Voluntary Foster Care Act would provide assistance to teens that arrive in the foster care system when they are between the ages of 16 and 18. They would continue to receive financial assistance for post-secondary education through the Department of Human Services.
“It is an area that most people don’t think about,” said Sen. John Proos, R- St. Joseph, a sponsor of the bills. “We often think of foster care as younger kids and even babies in some circumstances.”
Having a good shot at success later in life is more difficult for older kids in the foster care system because many have not been in the system long enough to find a loving family that will help give them a good chance, Proos said.
“The kids that come into the system late have had incredible upheaval in their lives,” Proos said. “And that upheaval really leaves them at a very vulnerable point. We only have to look back on our own youth experiences and the need for each of us to have stability and some mentorship from individuals who cared about us during that vulnerable developmental time.”
To be eligible, the teens would have to have graduated high school or received their GED and be working towards secondary education, vocational school or professional work.
This assistance will help kids financially, allow them to remain in a support system and stay on health insurance while they are working towards an education.
“As any parent knows, for a young person you really can’t survive very well, you don’t have the earning power when you are in your late teens to establish yourself independently,” said Jane Zehnder-Merrell, a senior research associate at the Michigan League for Human Service.
About 585 children are expected to be eligible for the assistance program in the 2011-12 fiscal year.
The program is voluntary and would be in place for kids who want to remain in foster care.
“If a young adult wants the help, and we want to help them, then the chances for good outcomes are a lot higher,” said Sen. Mike Nofs, R-Battle Creek, another sponsor of the bill. “I think it helps a lot for an individual who wants to be successful and wants to ask and reach out for some help, and is willing to do that voluntarily, I think that is a big step.”
The cost of the program will be funded primarily through a federal program, the Fostering Connections Act grant, Nofs said.
A recent House Fiscal Agency analysis said 34 staff members are needed to meet the increased caseload. The cost to the state is $2.6 million.
“To cut kids off at 17 or 18 is not realistic, given the fact that they don’t have any support system,” Zehnder-Merrell said.
The bills have passed the full Senate and have been unanimously approved by the House Families, Children and Seniors Committee. The full House still must act on them.
© 2011, Capital News Service, Michigan State University School of Journalism. Nonmembers cannot reproduce CNS articles without written permission.
By Nick McWherter