The Missouri General Assembly and Gov. Jay Nixon have found critical common ground when it comes to providing continuing family care for young people who exit the foster care system too early.
"Too early" is a tough definition to make. Foster kids can stay in the state system until they are 21, but an estimated 20 percent leave at age 18 or younger. Many more leave before 21, certain they can make it on their own and wanting out of a system they entered without a choice.
The decision to leave, however, means an end to state-provided housing and other benefits — to say nothing of the supportive structure of a foster family. Before long, many who have left find they acted hastily and now face a host of worldly problems, sometimes including homelessness. They have regrets but few options.
This is changing thanks to a measure recently signed into law by Gov. Nixon. Now, a young person who stays until age 18 will be able to leave the system and then re-enter at any time before turning 21.
The arguments for this are compelling. The St. Louis Post-Dispatch earlier this year recounted the research of Mark Courtney, a social scientist at the University of Chicago:
- Many young people outside the foster care system already are benefiting from arrangements that allow continuing family support. About half of adults between ages 18 and 24 are living at home. And between the ages of 18 and 30, young people receive an average of $38,000 in direct support from parents or relatives.
- When young people have the option of staying in active state care until age 21, they are twice as likely to have completed a year of college by 21. Further, young women are less likely to get pregnant before 21, and earnings by the mid-to-late 20s are significantly higher than for those who try to thrive outside the system.
Thanks to the legislature and Mr. Nixon, the foster care system in Missouri now has one of the most accommodating rules allowing young people formerly in foster care to re-enter the system. And this is as it should be.
Ask any parent: Is every child ready to fend for themselves at age 18 plus one day? Even 19 or 20? We can make the argument some young people still are adding to their life skills toolkit well into their late 20s.
Improving support for former foster children, through age 21, ensures our state foster family program operates more like a real family and gives these young people a much greater chance for success in life.
Copyright St. Joseph News Press. Distributed by the Associated Press.