Despite the pandemic, high school seniors across the Nation have conquered distance learning to successfully graduate. Included in the Class of 2020 are Jacob, Cesar, and Lavarian -- residents of St. Augustine Youth Services (SAYS) who achieved the major milestone of earning their high school diploma. This achievement is sadly not the typical occurrence for youth in the foster care system. The reason? Most youth in foster care will turn 18 and leave the foster care system before they have a chance to graduate.
Due to a combination of hard work and luck, our three SAYS graduates are an exception. Two of the graduates have summer birthdays, causing their graduation date to be prior to their 18th birthday. The third, while already 18 years old, was granted a rare exception to remain on SAYS’ campus until his graduation due to the collaboration between SAYS and the Lead Agency.
Determined to continue their education, all three youth have been accepted into college with the intent to start in Fall 2020, but what happens before then? At 18 years old our graduates must now face the daunting challenge of transitioning out of foster care. With little to no support available nationwide for those aging out of the foster care system, youth must abruptly learn to independently navigate housing, transportation, employment, mental health services, and more; often while they are still in high school. Even more challenging – undergoing this transition during a global pandemic.
“I’m a nervous wreck like I’m so stressed. I’m anxious. I’m worried.” – Jacob (2020 SAYS Graduate)
Without proper resources, role models, or traditional life skills, many youths will fail to become self-sufficient. A shocking 20% of foster care youth in the United States will immediately become homeless on their 18th birthday. Many will turn to substance abuse or enter the criminal justice system and less than 3% will earn any type of college degree.
How can we prevent these youth from falling through the cracks? By funding Independent Living (IL) programs that provide housing and allow youth to continue receiving services past their 18th birthday. Currently, only a handful of Independent Living programs exist in the State of Florida for aged-out youth. With nearly 1,000 foster care youth aging-out each year in Florida, the need for additional IL services is great.
A champion of this cause: Senator Travis Hutson. Senator Hutson’s bill in support of expanding Independent Living services was recently approved by the Governor, creating a much needed opportunity for Florida providers to improve the odds for youth like Jacob, Cesar, and Lavarian. Once again Senator Hutson assisting our most vulnerable population and community.
“Like other young adults, youths aging out of foster care deserve to celebrate their 18th birthdays with excitement for the future, not fear of homelessness. With this new recurring funding mechanism now in law, providers like SAYS can build housing and offer services so these young adults can concentrate not on surviving but on thriving.” – Senator Hutson
In September 2019, St. Augustine Youth Services announced their campaign to build an Independent Living Village (IL Village) on their SAYS Campus. The new building will feature efficiency style apartments that will allow foster care youth to transition from the group home to the IL Village where they will have stable housing and access to services while pursuing immediate goals such as earning their high school diploma, beginning college, or entering the workforce. We believe that with the right tools and support, every child can thrive, regardless of their circumstances. To learn more about the SAYS IL Village, please visit sayskids.org/ilvillage