Sunday, August 11, 2013

Nice Move Joe Kolbach

Joe Kolbach is definably doing some good things in South Dakota.  Some things I hope the state legislators are noticing.  Recently the owner of the Gary Buffalo Business Resort and Center started up the Midwest Training Academy, a place for veterans and aged-out foster system young adults to transition to life.  Representative Kathy Tyler summed up a bit of what the program offers:
He and his supporters restored part of the former South Dakota School for the Blind (what hadn’t been restored to a hotel/restaurant) into dorm rooms and classrooms for foster children who have outgrown the system and veterans.  Course offerings include hospitality (hotel supervision), trucking, welding, and wind energy maintenance.  The courses are six to eighteen months with guaranteed jobs.  What an amazing program! These young people will great additions to our workforce and to our society. 
The state of South Dakota does offer extended services to children in foster care, but there is more that they could do.
The South Dakota Department of Social Services listed 707 children in the foster care system during the 2013 fiscal year. Of that number, 59 aged out of the system. The Division of Child Protective Services is required by law to provide foster youth with transition assistance starting at age 16 and continuing until 21. 
I had a wonderful student that was part of the speech and debate team.  She came to me and said that she wanted to do an original oratory her senior year (original oratory is a persuasive speech).  I looked at her and asked if she had a topic in mind.  She was a bit hesitant at first, but after a bit we came up with the foster care system.  You see, not only was she a spitfire when it came to debate, she was also part of the foster care system.  She was happy with her foster family, but boy did she have a lot to say about the whole system and some of the very strange rules that were in place.  She also confided in me that she was a bit worried about graduating.  She knew she would "age out" and knew the statistics of foster kids that did age out.  She also knew that she did have some support system in place.

One option may be allowing those in foster care to stay for one more year.
A growing body of research provides direction on improving outcomes for youth in transition. For example, research suggests that allowing youth to remain in foster care voluntarily after age 18 is an important policy option, particularly since many youth do not graduate from high school until after their 18th birthday. The Midwest Evaluation of the Adult Functioning of Former Foster Youth (Midwest Study), a longitudinal study of youth in Illinois, Iowa, and Wisconsin, compared the outcomes of young adults who were still in care at age 19 to the outcomes of youth who had already been discharged. The report found that those youth remaining in state custody for an additional year were more likely to advance their education, have stable housing, stay out of the juvenile justice system, receive independent living services, and have access to health and mental health services. 
However, what I remember from her speech is that the best thing that you could do was provide a loving home for a foster care kid.  Consider being a foster care family and remember that foster care kids just wanted to be treated like other kids.  This young woman's speech has stuck with me over many years, and I hope that more can be done to help people in foster care that age out.

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