I'm writing regarding the letter you received from "Lost in Alabama," a former foster child who had lived in an emergency shelter for seven months before being placed in a foster home for the week before she turned 18. The girl was allowed to call the shelter for a short time before finally being asked not to call anymore and told to "move on with her life."
You wisely advised her to contact the YWCA. YWCA associations offer a variety of services, and many of them provide transitional housing programs. The girl from Alabama can learn about resources provided by her local YWCA by going to the Web site at www.ywca.org.
Since passage of the Foster Care Independence Act in 1999, more assistance is available to this population.
This legislation allowed states to extend Medicaid coverage up to age 21; permits youth to save money while in care to prepare for independence without their assets counting against their eligibility for foster care funding; provides funding to states for initial and ongoing training of foster parents; and created the Chafee Foster Care Independence Program. This program increased funding to states for independent living activities and offers increased assistance for room and board.
Youth should contact their state's foster care system to get more information about resources. If they have trouble navigating the system, the Child Welfare League of America may be able to assist: www.cwla.org.
YWCA of Fort Worth/Tarrant County
Since that letter ran, I have been told that nearly 25,000 young people "age out" of the foster care system each year -- and few, if any of them, have the necessary skills to live on their own. I congratulate you for the work you are doing with this underserved population. Read on:
"Lost" and all other teens in foster care should reach out and ask for help. They don't have to wait until they are 18 to do it. Teens in foster care need adults to step forward and help them reach their goals.
Agencies that can refer young people to help in their local communities include the local CASA (Court Appointed Special Advocate) programs and Foster Parent Associations.
A good online resource is Foster Club (www.fosterclub.com). Casey Family Programs also has a set of self-directed planning tools for youth at its Web site: www.casey.org/Resources/Tools/CaseyLifeSkills.htm.
Thank you for sharing these valuable resources.
Several other caring readers also pointed out that Job Corps helps youth between the ages of 16 and 24. Young people can live on-site for up to two years while working on their education and job-training skills. They receive free room, board, medical and dental care in addition to counseling and a small stipend.
The Web site is www.jobcorps.org and the toll-free number is 800-733- 5627.
Additional resources for young people in need of assistance include Catholic Charities and the Orphan Foundation of America, which also helps youth in the foster care system. The Orphan Foundation can be reached at www.orphan.org or by calling 571-203-0270.
Dear Abby is written by Abigail Van Buren, also known as Jeanne Phillips, and was founded by her mother, Pauline Phillips. Write Dear Abby at www.DearAbby.com or P.O. Box 69440, Los Angeles, Calif. 90069.
(c)2004, Universal Press Syndicate