July 23, 2014

Youth say lawmakers can help transition from state ward to adult (AUDIO)

Kris DellaCroce and Jacob Rusher share a laugh outside the legislative chamber

Kris DellaCroce and Jacob Rusher share a laugh outside the legislative chamber

A bill before the Unicameral has more than a passing interest to two youth, at the Capitol lobbying for it.

State lawmakers have begun debate on LB 216, a measure meant to help youth in the state foster care system transition into adulthood. It would provide Medicaid coverage, housing assistance, education aid and other services to former state wards, until the age of 21. Participation would be voluntary.

Kristina DellaCroce of Lincoln says the legislation makes sense.

“And, it goes until you’re 21, so it would help a lot of kids not be homeless or go to the mission or be in jail,” DellaCroce tells Nebraska Radio Network.

DellaCroce is 21. She was forced to leave the state system at age 19, with a two-year-old son. She says she struggled as nearly every former foster child does.

Without parents, with little training on even the simple practical matters of day-to-day living, former foster youth find independence less often a matter of freedom and more often a sense of helplessness.

Jacob Rusher of Omaha says he knew nothing about being an adult when forced to leave the state system.

“Growing up in foster care and in group homes, and kind of institutionalized, it wasn’t the real world. It wasn’t real life,” Rusher tells us.

So, he turned to what he knew for answers.

“I was on Google all the time, trying to find the answers to how to be an adult,” Rusher says.

Rusher and DellaCroce both say they had no idea how to open a checking account, how to pay bills, what it required to get utilities turned on at an apartment, if they could afford one.

Rusher says he hopes the bill can pass the legislature and change outcomes for former foster youth, with statistics indicating that many of the women get pregnant and many of the men get in trouble with the law.

Debate on the bill will likely resume today.

Some senators have questioned whether the state cannot afford the $6.7 million price tag over the next two years. Sponsor, Sen. Amanda McGill of Lincoln, has promised to work with the Department of Health and Human Services to cut the cost. The bill would leverage federal dollars. It would replace a current program that some say is ineffective.

Approximately 300 older youth leave the state system each year.

AUDIO: Brent Martin reports [:50]

AUDIO: Kristina DellaCroce talks with Brent Martin about transitioning out of the foster care system. [2:40]

AUDIO: Jacob Rusher talks with Brent Martin [3:40]