Butler County watching for foster kids who aged out of system

Worried that some emancipated foster kids have fallen through the cracks during the coronavirus pandemic, Butler County Commissioner Cindy Carpenter asked Children Services to create a safety net.

At a recent commission meeting Carpenter said she is worried that former foster kids are homeless and hungry.

“I continue to be notified by the community meal centers who serve the homeless that our aging out foster children are coming in for free hot meals, and in one case a young man is living homeless,” she said.

She said she expects Job and Family Services to ensure the kids who have been in their care are safe and asked Executive Director Bill Morrison to dig into the issue.

“I would like him to delve down in, check the foster children who are graduating, meet with case managers they have that are responsible for getting them to be age 21 and on their feet and make sure 100% of those kids are living in homes, are on their feet,” she said.

Morrison on Monday told the commissioners his agency does everything it can to protect the kids under its care both when they are in custody and beyond.

“Our primary strategy for emancipation since I became the director of Children Services six years ago has been to have as few kids as possible emancipate from foster care,” Morrison said. “We don’t want the last parent a child has to be us, we want it be somebody in the community.”

Known as “Bridges,” a new law passed in 2017 extends the foster care emancipation age to 21, and provides housing and support to those who would otherwise be on their own at age 18.

Morrison started a Permanency Roundtable three years ago, so when children turn 15, they begin meeting twice a year to start talking about the future.

“To start talking about what’s their life going to be when they turn 18, what’s their life going to look like then. Do they have anybody in the community that they had a relationship with at at one time that was important to them,” Morrison said. “We try to connect the youth with those appropriate adults because that’s really what they need as they approach adulthood, is they need some kind of family, somebody who cares about them, not got paid to care about them.”

He said they used to have 50 to 60 kids a year emancipate out of the foster system, between January 2018 and now they have had 58 children emancipate, 43 of them have had higher education plans and 15 chose not to accept the help that was offered.

He said like with any teen some of these children just want to be free and on their own, or they sometimes want to return to the parents BCCS took them away from because they were being abused or were otherwise endangered. For those teens he said they have left the door open and keep in periodic contact with them, in case they decide later they want help.

“Sometimes you’ve just got to wait until the horse is ready to drink the water,” he said.

Carpenter thanked Morrison for all of the innovations he has instituted but asked if perhaps he can start a new program of sorts, sending one of his people to the meal centers or other places where the homeless congregate, to see if there are any former foster teens who have fallen through the cracks.

“We’re working on a plan to do that,” Morrison told the Journal-News. “That makes sense to me, it’s just going to take us a few weeks to get it put together.”

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