On Tuesday, June 11 the Senate Caucus on Foster Care and the Camelot Community Care held a youth-led discussion on “What’s next for me? Facing my future as I age out of care.” The panel was comprised of seven young adults between 19-22 years of age, who were in the foster care system for anywhere from 5 months to their entire life and they discussed barriers and complications they were facing as foster youth transitioning out of the foster care system and into the workforce or into post-secondary education. In discussing their hardships, they made policy recommendations that could help alleviate the difficulties they were facing as young adults.

To begin the discussion, the youth described issues they faced when they were placed in the foster care system in either a group home or family foster home setting. Three of the youth specifically described the emotional hardship that came with being separated from their siblings and how that impacted the trauma they had already faced in being separated from their biological parent(s). They recommended there be legislation that helps make sibling meetings and phone calls a requirement in the case when siblings are separated and that sibling separation should be avoided as much as possible. Another youth also discussed she was held with a status for reunification for years and by the time she was deemed to have the goal of finding permanent placement, she was much older and it was far more difficult.

Pitfalls in the mental health assessments of youth was also a focus of the panel with a discussion of the problems that arise when all of the youth must talk to generalized therapists rather than specialists and do not have permanent relationships with their therapists. One young man discussed his frustration when he was placed on several psychotropic medications as a child for hyperactivity he thought could have been controlled through extracurricular activities, such as football. They frequently mentioned how they wanted a sense of normalcy that any other child would grow up with, and wanted more legislation to be passed that could help them have normal childhoods, noting that the Normalcy Act in Florida had helped, but still had some pitfalls such as making them feel like they were on display.

One young man had experienced two failed adoptions, which he attributed to not having an understanding of how to live in a family home. Many others shared this sentiment and thought that meeting families before placement, or even being matched with families of the same culture, race, and religion could help cut down on behavioral problems because they would feel more understood in their new environment. Having foster parent trainings on how to handle children with backgrounds of trauma, abuse, or aggressive behavior could also help remedy these issues.

Another hardship that all of the youth discussed was the lack of resources and classes provided to teach them life skills such as budgeting. They recommended that the Independent Living programs or services on how to be an adult were not sufficient and that they needed more real world application and practice to understand the principles. Ultimately they want classes that are accessible, proactive (and not just offered once they had aged out), and were held in family like environments so that people would continue to want to come to the classes over time.

Several of the young people talked about how the Chafee Education and Training Vouchers (ETV) or tuition waivers that former foster youth in Florida are eligible for are not enough to cover all of their expenses and how difficult it can be to balance a job, going to school, and covering all of their expenses. A young woman talked about how she was only in the foster care system for 5 months, but had been separated from her mother since she was 14, and did not qualify for Florida’s Post-Secondary Education Services and Support (PESS) because she had not been in foster care system for over 6 months, the eligibility requirement for receiving ETV. For this reason, she recommended that all limitations for PESS be removed so all youth who had been in the foster care system have access to the services. Others also asked that Chafee services be extended to the age of 26 in all states since some foster youth do not even get their GED until later than some their peers and this practice is also aligned with Medicaid provisions and adolescent brain research.