Legislature tackling expanded foster care emancipation

Butler County child welfare experts say a new bill to extend the foster care emancipation age to 21 would be beneficial on many levels.

House Bill 50 is currently on the table in State Rep. Tim Derickson’s new Community and Family Advancement Committee and is scheduled for a first hearing next week. A bill on the same topic was introduced last year, but it died in the Health and Aging Committee.

The Hanover Twp. Republican said he has a special interest in this bill because he knows several foster families personally. Derickson said the bill — which provides funding for the continued support of young adults, if they remain in some sort of educational or training program or work at least 80 hours a month — is actually aimed at shortening the time people are on public assistance, in the long run.

Statewide about half of foster children who age out of the system at 18 never get their high school diploma and about a third end up incarcerated, according to Derickson. The goal is to give them the support they need so they can stay in school, eventually get good jobs and not need welfare.

“I believe that members on my committee, if not the general assembly, are realizing we need to approach issues like this on a long term basis, and there are costs associated with it,” Derickson said. “But in the in the end, in the long term, the goal is to ultimately help people off public assistance, not keep them on public assistance.”

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The bill calls for $300,000 in state funds to be spent on planning for the expansion in 2016 and a total of $4.2 million in state and federal funds to implement the program in 2017. The federal government passed the Fostering Connections to Success and Increasing Adoptions Act in 2008 that allows the use of federal dollars to expand foster care.

Michaela and Merlin are two young women who graduated from high school and the Butler County foster care system last summer. Both said then a law change would be a great help, because the longer children can stay in the structured environment of foster care the better.

“Mainly because statistics say that a lot of kids don’t even make it this far,” Michaela said. “And with college they don’t make it as far as their potential would lead them. Mainly from going from one extreme to another. I think it would help us mentally prepare for our future out there.”

Jerome Kearns, executive director of Butler County Children Services, said there are currently 62 children in custody who could benefit from the bill if it passes.

“I think for some of our kids, when you think about being 18 and out there on your own, here’s an opportunity for up to an additional three years, as you’re pursuing education, as you’re working. Yes, I think this is a good thing for some of our kids,” he said.

Chris Schultz, executive director of PARACHUTE Butler County CASA, the court appointed special advocates for children in children services custody, said she is happy to hear the legislature is hopefully moving to protect older children because “18 just doesn’t cut it.” She said she hopes funding doesn’t get in the way of the bill’s passage.

“I would hope that they would do that because it would help kids get more stability, housing. We see a lot of kids go homeless at that time, because they just don’t have a family,” she said. “I would hope people could look at this and say of course, this is a no brainer.”

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