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New law to help Florida foster kids aging out of the system has funding problems

Some say law there’s not enough money to support law that went into effect Jan. 1

Quickly now: Where do foster kids in Florida go when they turn 18 if they haven’t been adopted, reunited with their parents or otherwise permanently placed? That’s not a question most people have probably considered before. And the answer is not very encouraging. For a long time, it has simply been: to the street.

But Florida, in a surprisingly progressive move, is trying to change that. In May 2013, Gov. Rick Scott visited Valencia College in Orlando to sign a new bill into law that makes it possible for foster kids to stay in foster care longer. Called the Nancy C. Detert Common Sense and Compassion Independent Living Act (SB 1036/HB 1315), the bill went into effect Jan. 1, and it extends the age a child may stay in foster care from 18 to 21 (22 if the child has a disability), as long as he or she meets certain requirements.

The law improves upon another program, called the Road to Independence, which went into effect in 2002, and was designed to make the transition from foster care to independence easier for kids. Under the Road to Independence, at age 13 foster children started receiving instruction in basic life skills, like cooking and taking care of money – the kinds of tasks the system assumed they would be getting from their parents, if they were living in a traditional home environment. When kids turned 18 and became independent, the program allowed them a monthly stipend of up to $1,250 a month, as long as they were enrolled in some kind of school program. The stipend would stay with them until they turned 21 (though they could appeal to carry on the stipend until age 23).

“The results were not good,” says Gerry Glynn, chief legal counsel for Community Based Care of Central Florida, a private charity contracted with the state to administer and oversee foster care.

The education could be anything, she says, and completing a program was not a requirement. “You could be enrolled in a GED program for five years and never take the GED.”

In 2012, a state steering committee suggested that Florida follow the example set by some other states, including California, Illinois and Washington, which allowed foster families to continue caring for foster kids even after age 18. State foster care receives funding from Title IV-E of the Social Security Act, so the federal government agreed to make money available to foster parents who kept the kids even after they had technically aged out of the program – so any funding incentives for Florida foster families to participate in a similar program would require the state to accept more federal money. Most everyone in Florida knows that Gov. Scott has never been a fan of that, but advocates for youth pushed hard to get the issue attention in Tallahassee – and to assure that the governor didn’t just cut funding for the Road to Independence program.

Enter Florida Youth SHINE, an advocacy organization made up of former foster youth. “Once [the Legislature] started seeing the figures, that the [Road to Independence] program wasn’t working, they were thinking about cutting all the funding, period,” says Daniel Pettus, state chair for Florida Youth SHINE “We went back and forth with the legislation, trying to not get the funding cut.”

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