Legislature asked to raise cut off age for foster care services

By: Kayla Bremer

Child advocate groups say once foster children leave the system they need more help getting on their feet.  The current cut off age for state services is 19 and now lawmakers are being asked to move it up to 21.

Advocacy group Nebraska Appleseed and Senator Amanda McGill say the state focuses on the “front door” of children entering the program but not as much on the youth exiting.

“It's really risky for those young people trying to make it out there on their own,” former foster child Amy Peters said.  “Especially if they fall through the cracks of the current former ward system and don't receive health care or assistance after the age of 19.”

Nebraska currently offers a program for former state wards, but it's very restrictive.

McGill says only 35 percent of the 300 that exit out of foster care every year are using the programs.

“There are always going to be some older youth that are coming into the system that are hard to find permanency for,” McGill said.  “There aren't as many families willing to adopt them.  So it's critical that we set up the proper services for the kids on the back end.”

The former ward program offers Medicaid and a monthly stipend for people who pursuing a college degree.

McGill says the new program would cost about two to three million dollars a year but the new federal law will allow Nebraska to qualify for federal matching dollars.

John Thompson is a former ward who “aged out” of the program four weeks ago.  He says many youth lose track of their dreams and fall through the cracks after aging out.

“Extending services and support would help to prevent this by helping youth look for possible colleges, scholarships, sports, careers or in my case join the military,” Thompson said.

Nebraska will join about a dozen other states if they adopt the new federal law.