The writer, of Omaha, aged out of foster care in 2012. He is a member of Project Everlast, a youth-led program that provides voice and advocacy opportunities for young people with experience in foster care.
Most kids look forward to their birthday with great excitement. But in my case, in the weeks leading up to my 19th birthday in 2012, I was rushed.
Ever since I was 12 years old, I spent much of my life living with foster families. In Nebraska, turning 19 means you can no longer live with a foster family. In the state's eyes, you are an adult. To me, that meant I was out on my own.
Being on your own for the first time is hard enough, even if you have the support of your family to show you the way and help you do things like open a bank account, take you on college visits, help you find a doctor or a place to live, or even be there to support you when times are tough.
That's why Legislative Bill 216 is so important for kids who grew up like I did. The Young Adult Voluntary Services and Support Act would create a program in Nebraska that helps youth who “age out” of foster care. These 19-year-olds could then go into adulthood with the support that most youth get from their families. This help includes housing assistance, Medicaid coverage and caseworker assistance until we turn 21.
In my case, it would have made a huge difference. I entered foster care in sixth grade. My older brother and I didn't know at the time why we couldn't stay with our mom, and we were angry. We acted out and were difficult for our foster parents to deal with. We moved to four different foster homes between my sixth- and eighth-grade years.
Eventually we moved back with our mom, but problems continued. I knew that wasn't a safe situation for us, so I called for help, and we went back into foster care.
As my 19th birthday approached, I knew I would have to move out of my foster family's home. I thought I had an arrangement for a place to live, but it fell through just two weeks before my birthday. I spent the two months after turning 19 bouncing from couch to couch, with nowhere I could truly call home. I was confused and didn't know what to do. My worker helped as much as possible, but still no one could tell me what was coming next.
That was confusing, but it was also frustrating. Some of my friends still lived at home or received support from their families as they started college or began working. But I was on my own.
Thankfully, with the help of Project Everlast and some caring friends, I was able to find a job and an apartment. I am getting ready to start college classes. I'd like to study psychology and someday become a social worker, so I can help kids who had struggles like I did.
I was lucky, but a lot of other youth I know aren't.
Passage of LB 216 would mean youth who leave foster care are not just thrown out on their own with no place to turn. They can have the very basic things to improve their chances of going to college or getting a job so they can be successful as adults.
Mostly, I think about my two younger brothers. They are still in foster care. My brothers are safe, and they do well in school. It's a big weight off my mind that I don't have to worry about them right now.
But I wonder what will happen if they age out of foster care. I want to be around to guide them and give them all the help I can.
But if I can't give them everything they need, I hope the services and support in LB 216 will be in place so they don't have to go through on their own what I did.