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Young adults now can stay in foster care until age 21

April 9, 2012

For the approximately 150 students who came to MSU from foster care, adjusting to college life without the support of a family can be difficult, but with help from a new state program, things might get easier.

The new Young Adult Voluntary Foster Care program, which changed the age young adults can stay under foster care from 18 to 21, went into effect April 2.

Voluntary young adults between the ages of 18 and 21 who meet the requirements and are presently or were formerly under foster care might be eligible to receive the benefits from this program, including a stipend for expenses, health care, more time to complete school or pursue a higher degree and counseling from a caseworker.

When state support for foster children stops at age 18, young adults might struggle to cope with college life, said Mary Chaliman, who works as director of the permanency division in the Michigan Bureau of Child Welfare.

“They’ve got now, not just financial resources, but they still have a worker available if they need to get services, mental health services or some assistance with housing or just somebody to call when they’ve got a problem,” Chaliman said. “There’s a lot of ways you can (derail) from having success when you don’t have finances, when you don’t have a family to fall back on.”

There currently are no students receiving foster care benefits at MSU, but since the program went into effect, more students in foster care might seek help from the MSU Foster Youth Alumni Services, or FAME, program coordinator Sarah Shortt Williams said. The program provides about 70 of the 150 total foster care alumni at MSU support through mentor services and also sends care packages during finals week, among other things, Shortt Williams said in an email.

“The advantage is that I will be able to work with their current caseworker to make sure they don’t have any needs on campus,” she said.

Former foster care recipient and media arts and technology senior Brittany Powell said in an email she has been receiving help from FAME since her sophomore year.

“Through this program, I am able to bond with students who may have experienced similar situations, and we generally help each other out with valuable information on resources, such as grants, child care assistance and housing to name a few,” Powell said in the email.

Powell said she is indifferent to the decision to modify the age a teenager can stay in foster care from 18 to 21. Powell said living with a foster family is not always the best option for young adults.

“Allowing them to stay in the foster care program until 21 may allow them (the) stability and assistance needed to ease the transition to being independent,” Powell said. “Foster care can be a good or bad experience, and for me, it was more so a bad one. I wouldn’t want any child to be forced to stay in an uncomfortable situation.”

Chaliman said she has seen support for Young Adult Voluntary Foster Care from many people, including caseworkers who now can ensure the young adult is ready to enter the real world.

“I think sometimes just being on your own is a lot more challenging than some youth may think … when you don’t have the resources; both financial resources or the services that you might need,” Chaliman said. “It’s good to know that there’s a safety net to come back to.”

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