Proposed bill would help youths aging out of foster care

Kristina Dellacroce watching her son, Tay, play Bike Race.

Kristina Dellacroce watching son, Tay, play Bike Race.

By Lindsey Berning, NewsNetNebraska

Kristina Dellacroce was put into foster care when she was only 4 years old. She spent the next 15 years of her life living searching for a good fit with a family.

She’s been with more than 20.

“I know when I was first in it, it was kind of like no sleep,” Dellacroce said. “And you kind of just worry about where you’re going to go next, or if you’re going to be here a long time, or if you’re going to be with another family.”

Dellacroce’s case is not uncommon.

About 24 percent of the children in Nebraska’s foster care system have spent more than half of their lives in foster care, according to state numbers. And about 34 percent of 16-18 year olds in foster care have been placed in 10 or more homes according to the 2012 Nebraska Foster Care Review Office Annual Report.

Total Lifetime Placements

The hardest part of foster care was aging out when she was 19 years old, Dellacroce said. Two weeks before her 19th birthday, Dellacroce’s foster mom made her sign a lease on an apartment for her to move into. She told Dellacroce she had to move out since she would not receive payment for her once she turned 19.

Dellacroce was a new mother at the time and had to start supporting herself and her son completely on her own. After a year of constant struggling to come up with enough money for rent, Dellacroce had to move out of her apartment and began couch surfing with her son.

But Dellacroce said a lot of kids have it worse than her. She had several friends that were dropped off at the People’s City Mission on their 19th birthday. Over 50 percent of young adults who aged out of foster care have experienced homelessness, according to Nebraska Appleseed.

Legislative Bill 216, proposed this session, would help smooth this transition of aging out of foster care. It would extend foster care services to youths for an extra two years until they turn 21.

“One of the things that caught my eye a couple years ago at a local conference was this number of kids aging out with nowhere to go, with no supports,” said Sen. Amanda McGill, who proposed the bill.  “And just hearing about how currently the Department of Health and Human Services doesn’t do a good job of getting them prepared by the time they’re 19.”

Last year, 307 people aged out of the Nebraska foster care system. Many will face jail, unplanned pregnancies or homeless. Those 307 people, according to Project Everlast, could end up costing the state more than $90 million in other services.

  • Child support- 71 percent of young women will be pregnant by the age of 21, and 62 percent will have two pregnancies by that age. Often, they use public assistance to feed, house and care for children.
  • Justice system- 80 percent of young men will be arrested at least once by age 26, and 60 percent will be convicted of a crime. In Nebraska, the annual cost for incarceration is $35,950 per inmate.
  • Lost wages from low academic achievement- Each of the 42 percent who don’t finish high school will earn $260,000 less than average over their lifetime. Only 6 percent will achieve a two or four-year degree.
  • Lost tax revenue- Only 48 percent of those who age out of care will have steady employment by age 26. And they’ll earn $18,000 less than their peers.
  • Funding for homeless support- 20 percent of those who age out will be homeless by age 21.

The bill would give those aging out of foster care housing support, Medicaid coverage and age-appropriate case management services. Those services are meant to prepare them by the time they are 21 for life on their own. Some services would be getting help obtaining employment or other financial support, obtaining a government-issued identification card, opening and maintaining a bank account, completing a secondary education, applying for admission and aid for a postsecondary education or vocational courses or accessing pregnancy and parenting resources.

Sen. McGill, Kristina Dellacroce and her son Tay working hard to advance LB216.

Sen. McGill, Kristina Dellacroce and her son Tay working to advance LB216.

Dellacroce is on the Project Everlast Council, a youth council made up of about 20 members ages 14-24. They meet for two hours every other week to discuss issues related to foster care. They are currently working with McGill and other senators to advance LB 216, which has received first round approval in the legislature. Even though the bill would not support her directly, Dellacroce testified for the bill along with a couple other people that have aged out of foster care.

She says the two extra years would have really helped her.

“I wouldn’t have had to put my son through as much as I did,” Dellacroce said. “I feel like I would have been set up easier, not saying that it needs to be easy, but I mean you need help from time to time if you know what I mean.

It would have helped me a lot.”

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