Tennessee has become the first state in the nation to offer all children who grow up in foster care special services to help them adjust to becoming adults.
Gov. Bill Haslam on Wednesday announced that a program providing aid to foster children transitioning into adulthood is expanding through a public-private partnership with Youth Villages, a Memphis-based nonprofit that offers help for “troubled children and their families” in Tennessee and 11 other states.
“We’re now expanding the program to make it available to every young person who ages out of state custody in Tennessee. What that means is that Tennessee becomes the first state ever to make services available for a hundred percent of its former foster youth,” Haslam said.
The program’s aim is to help “a really vulnerable piece of our population at a very critical time in their life,” the governor said.
“The chances of finding a great job are pretty hard for anybody today, and if you’re coming out of foster care, the challenges are maybe even particularly unique,” Haslam said.
Since 2006 the Department of Children’s Services has contributed $9 million to provide assistance to foster children transitioning out of state care in partnership with Youth Villages. The nonprofit began their program in 1999 with funding from Memphis-area philanthropist Clarence Day, helping more than 5,000 young people in Tennessee since, according to an information sheet provided by Youth Villages.
DCS began their contribution to the program with $750,000, which the nonprofit has since been matching and growing to $2.2 million, said Patrick Lawler, CEO of Youth Villages.
However, the program was only serving about 60 percent of those aging out of the system. The state has now agreed to raise funding for the program to $3 million, matched by Youth Villages private donor funds, which will allow the organization to serve everyone growing up in the Tennessee foster care system, Lawler said.
There has been no increase to the department’s budget to accommodate the increase in funding, said DCS Commissioner Jim Henry. Instead, the department will fund the program with spending reductions in other areas.
Haslam said about 1,000 young adults aged out of the foster care system in Tennessee last year.
The program helps those in transition by providing them with a transitional living specialist, available for assistance at any time, to help former foster children finish school, find a job and become successful adults, Lawler said.
The state joined the federal Fostering Connections program last year, which “allows young people who meet certain requirements to stay in their foster homes until they’re 21,” and this expansion is the next step in serving this population, Haslam said.
“Everywhere I go I speak with commissioners, and occasionally a governor, often legislators, and every time they’ll ask us one question: where is this being done right? And every time we point to the state of Tennessee,” Lawler said. “The state of Tennessee, by far, has the most significant program for young people, especially vulnerable young people, and those aging out of the foster care system. And I’m proud that Tennessee is a national model.”