Wilmington, DE – The Delaware Children’s Campaign today issued a report that examines what happens to youth in the Delaware foster care system when they turn 18 years of age.
Carl Schnee, Chairman of the Delaware Children’s Campaign released the report titled “Our Children: Aging-out of Foster Care in Delaware” which studied the needs of teens who age-out of the Delaware foster care system. The report provides the best picture to date on these teenagers and what the focus of the advocacy efforts may need to be for this upcoming legislative year. (The report can be found online at @link href=’http://WWW.DECHILDRENSCAMPAIGN.ORG’target=”_blank”>WWW.DECHILDRENSCAMPAIGN.ORG/link.
The report was funded and written by the Delaware Children’s Campaign, and the data was compiled with the assistance of social service providers, child advocates and the Division of Family Services. This report is an effort to try to highlight the needs of over 100 Delaware teenagers who exit the foster care system every year simply by turning 18. In most cases, these teens are left homeless, and without educational opportunities or skills necessary to find and retain jobs. National data show that at least 25% of these teens will be incarcerated within the first two years of leaving foster care. The report concludes that these teens need further supports, not only from the Division of Family Services but also from the community at-large.
Mr. Schnee stated, “It is the hope of the Delaware Children’s Campaign that the report serves as a call-to-action for the community to partner with social service providers and the state to find homes, jobs and educational opportunities for these kids. Their success directly translates into societal cost savings by alleviating the demands on our judicial/criminal system and contributing to the general overall betterment of our community.”
According to the report, the identified needs of these youth are: housing; education; employment; and healthcare (including mental health services and pre/postnatal care).
The report recommends:
• Full implementation of the Federal Chafee Foster Care Independence Program that provides monies from the Federal government to states (Delaware received around $590,000 in FY ’08) to directly help children transition out of foster care and into the community;
• That advocates and community based groups work with the Division of Family Services to identify how many youth need assistance and quantify the cost of services and increased capacity;
• Establishment of a council to identify and implement nationally recognized best practice models to address the independent living and transitional service needs of youth aging-out of foster care;
• Enactment of legislation that allows for extended jurisdiction of eligible youth over the age of 18 through the Family Court to ensure that services provided to youth while in foster care continue through the age of 21.
Last year, Delaware budgeted $806,000 to serve over 370 youth ages 16-21 with independent living services, including life skills training, education and housing. Life skills providers within the state are: West End Neighborhood House, Wilmington; North East Treatment Center, New Castle; Elizabeth W. Murphy School, Dover; and People’s Place Inc., Milford.
West End Neighborhood House in Wilmington is the only social service provider that provides teens with housing. Its Life Lines program is able to accommodate only 35 youth who age-out of foster care in any given year.
Mr. Schnee stated, “As wonderful as the Life Lines program is it is still problematic for youth outside of New Castle County as they have to not only face transition from a foster care setting but also have to face moving to an unfamiliar location. This uproots their sense of community and places them at an even further disadvantage for successful transition into the community. Housing units and supports need to be increased in Kent and Sussex Counties.” Life Lines is working with the Delaware State Housing Authority to increase housing units through two programs: Partnering with Parents and Step-Up.
An example of how the business community can help assist these youth is the Individual Development Account (IDA) Program supported by Deutsche Bank Trust Company Delaware (DBTCD). Lorraine DeMeurisse, Community Development Officer for DBTCD commented that, “the idea of supporting financial literacy development and savings habits for this population, with such great need, was a natural fit for DBTCD given its investment in the original statewide IDA program, Delawarean’s Save, and its interest in supporting initiatives that help people become and maintain self-sufficiency.” To date Deutsche Bank has contributed $50,000 to this program.
Lynn Ingersoll’s group, Independent Living for Young Adults (ILYA), is in partnership with The First Unitarian Church in Wilmington. ILYA provides active support to a number of youth who have aged-out, including training stipends, rent and utility supplements, mentoring, donations of furniture, etc. Ms. Ingersoll stated, “These young people are at a crossroads, moving from childhood in foster care into adulthood, largely without support. As a caring community, it is critical that we join together to help them become responsible, productive adults. Prevention of problems now is far more important and
cost effective than treating problems later.”