COLUMBIA — Young adults in Missouri foster care system will now be able to remain in the state's care until they turn 21.
Gov. Jay Nixon signed two bills into law Thursday at the Boone County Courthouse, which will extend the age of support from 18 to 21 and will provide additional opportunities and support for visiting institutes of higher education.
SB 205, sponsored by Republican state Sen. David Sater, extends the age of foster care to 21 and requires youth in state care to visit a Missouri institute of higher education or a military recruiter before they leave the system, unless waived by their family-support team. The bill would also provide reimbursement for costs accrued in completing school visits.
The second bill, sponsored by Democratic state Sen. Jolie Justus, allows youth in foster care to remain in the system or return to the system up to age 21.
Before signing the bill, Nixon recognized the work of the Senate for passing the new laws.
"The overwhelming support for this legislation on both sides of the aisle reflects an understanding of our shared responsibility to support vital services to children in need," Nixon said.
According to a news release issued by the governor's office, there are currently 356 foster children in Missouri's 13th Judicial District, which includes Boone and Callaway counties.
"At 18 most of us were fortunate enough to have parents there nudging us along and helping us make good decisions as we prepared to go out into the world," Nixon said. "But for our foster youth that exit the system at age 18, the door shuts behind them, and that's not good for their future or ours."
As Nixon signed the two bills, Susan Reeves, the director of advancement at Great Circle, sat with several youths under her organization's care.
Great Circle was formed when Boys and Girls Town merged with Edgewood Children's Center. It offers a "transitional living program" for youths in the foster care system between the ages of 16 and 21 to develop what Reeves described as "independent life skills."
Reeves said she was pleased with the additional support for foster youths provided in the bill, including the opportunity to return to the agency's care.
"If they say they want to go out and work, and for whatever reason things aren't really coming together for them, then they can come back into our care and get some additional support to help them relaunch," Reeves said.
Young adults in this program may live in a group home or live on their own and receive services from Great Circle, which includes helping to find employment, preparing for job interviews and developing practical skills, such as budgeting.
"Basically all the things a family would help them do, that's what we do," Reeves said.
The two bills signed into law will go into effect Aug. 28.
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