Lawmakers and advocates work to pass extended foster care bill

BATON ROUGE, La. (KALB) - A bill aimed at extending foster care to children until age 21 advanced out of the Senate Finance Committee on Tuesday. It will ultimately help youth by providing additional services and guidance in an effort to produce more responsible and contributing members of society.

Cutout Photo: Guian Bolisay / CC BY-SA 2.0 / Pixabay / MGN

A local Youth in Transition consultant, Htet Htet Rodgers, recalls her time in foster care as the bill works its way through the full Senate. She landed in a supportive home at the age of 13, but prior to endured years of emotional torment from an aunt.

"She was very abusive. She was very neglectful. She was emotionally abusive," said Rodgers.

It’s the same story for many of Louisiana’s more than 4500 in state foster care. They brave constant hurt from abuse, poverty, and addiction from the same parents who should be providers and protectors.

Right now the system is failing these youth as they age out.

"So many of these children have been in difficult circumstances. They're not prepared like perhaps my children or your children," said State Representative Mike Johnson, who is a supporter of the Extended Foster Care Bill.

The odds of success for these teens are more like a crap shoot. As kids complete high school and embrace life on their own, some lack common skills like driving or struggle to find housing. Many blindly manage to make their next moves.

According to the National Foster Youth Institute, 20% will instantly become homeless; there is a less than 3% chance for these youth to earn a college degree at any point in their life; about 7 out of 10 girls will become pregnant before turning 21; about 75% of women and 33% of men receive government benefits to meet basic needs; and one out of every two kids will develop a substance dependence.

More than 23,000 children will age out of the U.S. foster care system each year.

"These children are our children. They're the whole state's children. They're not just DCFS children," said Marketa Garner Walters, Secretary of the Department of Children and Family Services.

SB 109 would create an extended foster care system for youth ages 18 to 21.

The program is said to cost $11.6 million over five years, with a 50% match from the federal government. However, there is the argument that states are simply reallocating government funds to support these youth in a prosperous way. The Annie E Casey Foundation reports in 2013, on average for every young person who ages out of the system at 18, communities will pay $300,000 in social costs over that person's lifetime. Social costs equal taxpayer-funded programs like government assistance and incarceration, but it also includes wages lost as a result of dropping out of high school.

As lawmakers and advocates are weighing its worth, they also don't want to create another dependency.

"We can keep extending it, but if we're not preparing them properly then we're just going to have to keep extending it," said Rodgers.

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