Shaquita Ogleetree
On Wednesday, June 6th, the Senate Caucus on Foster Youth in coordination with Florida’s Camelot Community Care held a youth-lead briefing titled: What’s next for me? Facing my future as I age out of care. A dynamic panel of eight young people between the ages of 18 through 22 and in foster care explained what matters to them, what hopes and fears they carry as they transition from foster care, and what congressional leaders need to know.

In 2013, Florida extended foster care permitting eligible young adults to receive services and supports beyond the age of 18. As an added support, Florida’s Postsecondary Education Services and Supports (PESS) allows eligible young adults to receive education and financial assistance for college or postsecondary vocational school. Among the panelists:

Cynthia would like youth to be better informed and supported as they transition out of foster care including training and education regarding mandatory life skills. Ashaunta and Samuel recommended that mentorship for youth in foster care should be mandatory. Alex would like to see a greater effort by Congress and other policymakers in prioritizing sibling groups. Kameron discussed the need for a greater focus by the child welfare system on the development of individualized placements for children that focus on their needs, especially LGBTQ youth.

After the initial comments panelists engaged in a dialogue with the audience of briefing participants including several staff from Senate and House offices. Included in that dialogue, mentorship programs should be developed and supported in a way that matches the young person with a similar community as the youth in foster care. Mentors need to be trustworthy, consistent, and provide emotional and moral support. Ideally, a mentor could be a big brother big sister to provide guidance when the youth in foster care who need someone to talk to. Alex, who is now 18, spoke about being placed in foster care and separated from his two siblings and how that impacted on his ability to focus on his education due to the stress of worry and concern about their well-being.

Kameron, age 19 identified himself as LGBTQ, spoke about the lack of LGBTQ friendly placements in the child welfare system or that individualized placement plans of youth should be a focus. He described a positive placement that he had in Florida and indicated that to his knowledge only New York, California, and Florida have such LGBTQ placements arrangements. The LGBTQ placement in Clearwater, FL where he stayed will be closing due to lack of funding this year.

Many youth in foster care including Kameron were told by a child welfare worker that no one wanted anyone his age. Two of the panelist, Eddie, age 23 who attends the University of South Florida and Yohance, age 18, mentioned that they were adopted but faced greater challenges due to a dissolution of those adoptions. Yohance grew close to his former adoptive parent’s neighbor, who helped him get the job he has now, and he serves as a connection/mentor.

Samuel attends Culinary School and has been able to navigate great challenges, but he worries about eviction and finding future stable housing in a safe environment, and the realization that PESS is only available for his 23rd birthday. Many young people “age-out” of the foster care system with no assistance or adequate support to help them transition to adulthood. Quanterkia spoke about her guardian-ad Litem being a champion for her before she transitioned to EFC.