September 2, 2014

Lawmakers consider extending foster care services (AUDIO)

Nebraska Appleseed’s Sarah Helvey speaks at the Capitol news conference with Sen. Amanda McGill and former state ward John Thompson

A proposal is being pushed at the Capitol to extend foster care services beyond the teen-age years.

Sen. Amanda McGill of Lincoln told a news conference held at the Capitol that it can be difficult for a teen-ager who ages out of the foster care system, even though the state offers the Former Ward program.

“Some youths aren’t prepared to go to college right away. And, you have to go to college to apply for this program,” McGill stated.

A report released by Nebraska Appleseed found that 321 youth aged out of the Nebraska foster care system last year, but only 112 entered the Former Ward program.

The program offers a monthly stipend to former wards of the state and extends Medicaid coverage. Youth who exit the foster care system at age 19 must enroll in college to enter the Former Ward program and stay in college to continue receiving services through the program.

Sarah Helvey, Child Welfare Program Director for Nebraska Appleseed, said that a change in federal law provides Nebraska an opportunity to provide more services to former wards of the state. The state would likely have to contribute up to $3 million to trigger federal funding to pay for a wider range of services to former wards whether they enroll in college or not.

“There’s an opportunity here to make an investment in young people and research has shown there’s a two-to-one return on that,” Helvey said. “So, it’s really helping young people make that transition.”

McGill sponsored LR 537, which called for an interim study of the needs of those youth who age out of the foster care system. She expects to file legislation next year, which she says would follow up on the work the legislature did last session.

“I feel like the legislature really created a solid foundation for child welfare last year and that this is our opportunity to build upon that to help youth who are leaving the system in addition to the other bills that are being researched right now in helping to create best practices and when to bring kids into the system on the front end,” according to McGill.

AUDIO: Opening statement of Nebraska Appleseed news conference on foster care. [4 min.]