The writer, of Lincoln, is a 22-year-old who went through Nebraska’s foster care system.

When you spend time in foster care, you’re reminded plenty of times that your life is different from the lives of other kids. Even if your foster parents do everything they can to make sure you are healthy, safe, happy and loved, there are some things the foster care system just doesn’t let foster kids do easily.

I experienced this firsthand during my seven years in foster care. After leaving the system shortly before my 19th birthday, I struggled to find my voice and place as an “independent” adult, without any of the supports other young adults enjoy from their family. I want better for those currently fighting to be normal, healthy teenagers while also navigating the foster care system. Legislative Bill 746 is an opportunity for Nebraska to do better for kids who grew up like me.

LB 746 would make life in foster care a bit more normal by implementing some key pieces of a recent federal law. Specifically, three key things would happen:

» Youths would be given a voice in planning what services, supports and goals should be part of their transition from foster care.

» Youths would leave foster care with essential documents, such as medical records, family information and their birth certificate.

» Finding a permanent home via reunification with biological family, guardianship or adoption would have to remain a priority until at least age 16 for youths in foster care. But after 16, the priority may become finding connections and support for youths who will likely age out of the system at 19 so they can become independent in a responsible, healthy way.

For five years, I fought with every adult in my case, arguing that returning home would not be successful in my situation. But, each time, I was returned to a difficult home environment, and I would be back in the system within a couple months, going through the court process to find a new placement.

My voice wasn’t heard, and I felt like my feelings didn’t matter. Growing up should be about learning to make decisions and dreaming about college or a career, with adults providing guidance. For me, it meant going wherever I was told, when I was told, and worrying about where I’d be from day to day, all while feeling powerless.

At 17 years old, I was five months pregnant, and my caseworker suggested that it was time to try something different. That’s when my voice became a factor in my future. While I was glad to finally feel heard, I had just over a year to prepare to age out and be “independent.” I didn’t know how to write a check, open a bank account, establish credit, prepare for a job interview or any number of other important adult skills.

Everyone wants young people to be successful in and after foster care. I write this to emphasize how LB 746 would allow the youths who are experiencing the same thing I did to use their voices to help plan their future.

It would let young people have a support system helping them become successful, rather than a team who is making all the decisions for them. It would also give them that feeling of simply being “normal” with support from a consistent team of advisers they can know and trust. Essentially, it would encourage foster care to do what parents do — prepare children for adulthood.

I hope lawmakers will remember my story as they make their decision about LB 746 because there are hundreds of youths like me in foster care in Nebraska today. This bill would give them a chance to take control of their goals and needs, have access to essential documents and build lifelong connections before they are on their own at 19 and clueless.

My request is simply to give all youths in foster care the opportunity and support you’d want for your own teen.

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