The transition from youth to adulthood is hard on just about anyone, foster youth advocates said Wednesday, but if you’re a foster child leaving the court system without a permanent home, your odds are startlingly poor.
New grant funding announced Wednesday for CASA — Court Appointed Special Advocates — intends to ease much of the pain, putting volunteers to work with young people through the age of 26.
“The system is failing these children,” said Martha Gershun, executive director of Jackson County CASA.
The program is the first of its kind in CASA’s national system, Gershun said.
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She recited a litany of statistics from the national Jim Casey Youth Opportunities Initiative:
▪ More than one in five U.S. teens in foster care who “age out” without a permanent home will become homeless.
▪ One in four will become involved in the justice system.
▪ Less than 60 percent will graduate high school by 19, compared to 87 percent for all youth. Only half will be employed by 24.
▪ Among girls, 71 percent will be pregnant by age 21.
CASA has nearly 600 volunteers serving about 1,600 abused or neglected children who are under court protection in Jackson, Johnson and Wyandotte counties.
But until now, the work of the CASA volunteers has ended when the foster youths reach the court system’s age limit — 18 in Kansas and 18 to 21 in Missouri, where judges have some discretion.
“It’s a tremendous challenge” for many of the youths, said Lois Rice, executive director of CASA of Johnson & Wyandotte Counties.
“We’re dropping an 18-year-old on society who may have no knowledge of transportation,” she said. “They may have no adult in their lives with a job.”
No idea about health insurance. No means to open a bank account or put down a deposit on an apartment. Some don’t have a driver’s license.
We’re dropping an 18-year-old on society who may have no knowledge of transportation. They may have no adult in their lives with a job.
Lois Rice, executive director of CASA of Johnson & Wyandotte Counties
Grant funding from the Hall Family Foundation and the William T. Kemper Foundation will be supporting CASA staffing and resources. The foundations did not want to disclose the amount of the grant, which is for three years.
Going forward, the main need for CASA will be recruiting and training more volunteer advocates, Rice said.
For people who want to help, the older foster youth program provides “a very specific way to step in and be a catalyst for change,” Rice said.
The program directors have begun talking with some of the youths about the chance they have to receive more support. The court system and the caseworkers supporting it work hard to help the children, but their loads are immense, Gershun said.
Many of the children who come through the court system, she said, rely on CASA’s “single point of contact, stepping up to be their person.”
The possibility of extra support, she said, has brought the youths “extraordinary relief.”
Between the two CASA offices, the programmers expect to serve 75 of the older foster children in the first year, Gershun said. In most cases, they will be served by the CASA volunteer who has already been helping them to this point, but the offices will need more volunteers to support more children throughout the system.
“It’s going to take more volunteers,” Gershun said. “But when we go out to the community, we’ve been able to get volunteers.”