Youth who are exiting foster care managed by the state Department of Children and Families need experience in financial literacy, grocery shopping, reading a lease and dozens of other skills required to live independently. That’s according to Yamia Gibson who has transitioned out of the system.
But it’s often a daunting task asking for help with those things, said Whitney Rodriguez, who also was in foster care. “A lot of times we’re scared to ask because we know the answer,” Rodriguez said.
Often a question about how to find housing will lead to no concrete help but a lot of referrals to other agencies, she said. “A lot of times, we have to jump through hoops,” Rodriguez said.
The 10th Youth at the Capitol Day hosted by Connecticut Voices for Children Thursday placed those with life experience and decision-makers in the same program to allow each to hear what more could be done for youth transitioning to independence following state care.
It was a defining moment for Chris Scott, the founder and executive director of SUN Scholars, a DCF funded nonprofit which helps young adults transition from foster care to independence.
Five or six years ago, Scott attended the event as a former foster care youth. A few years ago, he was asked to speak during the program. This year, the 26-year-old was the keynote speaker inviting policy makers to “legislate luck of the equation” so that young adults aging out of foster care can succeed and thrive.
Foster kids are expected to “beat the odds” to succeed, Scott said. “The power of policy is instead of beating the odds, let’s change the odds,” he said.
Based on their report “Rising Out of Recession,” released this week CT Voices for Children is advocating for the state to consider six recommendations that would aid foster kids in creating a stable life including housing, higher education and employment that can build financial wealth during the pandemic and beyond.
The group is suggesting that DCF and the state hire liaisons who would specialize in getting these young adults access resources for housing, employment and the means to achieve stability.
The state, according to the report, should also create a policy that gives preference in hiring former foster care youth for state jobs. The state should codify in law DCF’s current practice of allowing qualified young adults the ability to remain in care up to age 23. The best policy would be to extend the age to 26, Lauren Ruth and Ryan Wilson, the report’s authors, said.
The federal government should also make the expansions of foster care funding available during the pandemic permanent, which would increase money for housing and other expenses, the report said.
Rep. Josh Elliot, D-Hamden, the co-chair of the Higher Education Committee, is ready to check one goal off the list. He’s sponsoring legislation that would expand the age that kids in foster care could receive tuition waivers for their education to age 30.
“It was a no-brainer,” Elliot said. “Obviously we should be providing resources to kids who need the support.
But the reality is that DCF would need resources to move forward with some of the recommendations. “If we were to expand to older groups, we would need resources for that,” Linda Dixon, who works in DCF’s transition program, said.
Scott’s SUN Scholars, provides support to 60 young adults who were in foster care or adoption with academic coaching, college readiness, mentoring, networking opportunities, and career competency services. His entire staff, including Gibson and Rodriguez, are former foster care or adopted youth.
Even with support, building independence can be a struggle, many of the young adults who participated in the program, said. Young adults with families can ask for help, get advice or have a period of interdependence before they go out on their own, Scott said. “I had to do this alone,” he said.
The pandemic hit when Anna Rose Thelmaque was in her freshman year of college. She was living on campus when the school shut down and students living in the dorms were told to go home, she recalled.
“I had to move out with nowhere to go,” Thelmaque said. “I was able to come back, but with the pandemic rising and going down constantly I would say to myself, is this the day that I’m going to get kicked out?”
Gibson explained that young adults need training in life skills and basic supports if they are going to do well in school. “You aren’t going to focus on long-term goals if you have a lack of basic necessities, such as food, proper clothing, and housing,” she said.
“Going into full adulthood is intimidating,” Gibson said. “Going into full adulthood without supports is very intimidating.”