Lawmakers vote to change foster care guidelines

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Posted: Thursday, May 2, 2013 5:55 pm | Updated: 9:04 pm, Tue May 28, 2013.

SARASOTA - A bill that would allow Florida youngsters to remain in foster care until age 21 has cleared the state legislature.  Wednesday, the house approved the bill 116-1, sending the measure off to Governor Scott for a signature. 

State Senator Nancy Detert of Venice sponsored the bill, and she says it will help foster children right here on the Suncoast, ease into adulthood. And many of them agree.

"I came in foster care when I was 9, left when I was 10, came back when I was 15," said Tynesha a former foster care child.

She is one of many children across the state who has been bounced around through the system.  But, when she turned 17 and met certain guidelines she was considered aged out, which means she was no longer illegible to be in foster care.

"For me there wasn't really anybody there because my parents aren't in my life and I really don't associate with my family members ," said Tynesha.

And her story is a familiar one. She says for most foster care children there's no one to turn to, but their former case workers, who many times are not available.

"Nine times out of ten, unless they are really there for you, then your lucky if someone is there if you need anything.  I go to meeting in Tallahassee and I meet with foster youth all over the state and its a lot of them who've become homeless or pregnant teen because they didn't have anyone to tell them, do this or do that," added Tynesha.

But, state lawmakers are hoping to change that by passing SB-1036.  The measure would extend the foster care age limit to 21.

"They were having to navigate the community and the resources on their own.  Where now, the new law would make it a team approach.  They will continue to have their guardian ad litem, their case manager, their foster parents, the placement their living in," said Lucia Branton of Safe Children Coalition the private agency responsible for the foster care children in the area.

And Branton says many times when the children age out of foster care they have not yet finished high school.  So, they are also hoping that the new law will help increase the odds of the children graduating.

"It will continue to allow us to have a really close relationship with these youth after 18 and we can continue to be a strong support system for them as they are navigating and advocating for their educational needs," said Branton.

And although Tynesha is already aged out, she's still thinks of those in foster care who are younger and hopes Governor Scott does the same when the bill hits his desk.  "Extending foster care that's good, For some kids it gives them a chance, because a lot of kids aren't ready to just be thrown out at 18," said Branton.

Under the current foster care guidelines 33% of former foster care children are homeless within three years and 25% of the males are behind bars. So many are also hoping the new rule will help turn around those statistics.

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