WHAT OTHERS SAY: Lawmakers should seize opportunity to give second chance to foster children

Tuesday, February 19, 2013 | 11:16 a.m. CST

The Missouri General Assembly has a chance to do something good for young people who have been dealt a tough hand in life. Lawmakers should seize the opportunity.

There appears to be bipartisan support for a bill sponsored by Sen. Jolie Justus, a Kansas City Democrat, which helps older teenagers who are in foster care or other forms of state custody.

Every year, a number of those teenagers ask to leave the system when they turn 18. Judges often grant the requests.

But many young people quickly regret their decisions. They return to biological families only to find themselves facing the same dysfunction that caused the state to intervene originally. One in five ends up homeless. They miss out on college scholarship opportunities open to foster children. After age 18, they lose Medicaid coverage.

Justus’ bill would give youths a second chance. They could petition a judge to be readmitted to state custody and placed in an appropriate living situation, often a group residence for older teenagers. Some might remain technically in state custody while they attend college.

They would again be eligible for Medicaid through age 21; that will be extended up until age 26 when a provision of the federal Affordable Care Act takes effect in 2014.

This is only fair. Almost no teenagers are expected to be completely independent at age 18. The latest U.S. Census showed that about half of young people between the ages of 18 and 24 were living with one or more parent. Many on their own still turn to their families for financial and emotional support.

It’s unrealistic and unforgiving to force a young person to live with a custody decision that he or she made at age 17. The state should welcome a second chance to help these teenagers on a path to success.

Copyright The Kansas City Star. Reprinted with permission.

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