- Estimated 300 teenagers a year age out of Oklahoma foster care
- As many as a third of those are homeless within three years
- About the same number are arrested by their 21st birthday
- Some state lawmakers want to expand support for foster youth from the age of 18 to 21
Sam and his sister Christine share a tight bond.
That strong bond extends to Cash, a dog, Sam got for free, but is priceless to him because of what Sam and his sister went through as foster children in Oklahoma.
When Sam’s wife suggested it might be best to let someone else care for cash, "I finally broke down about a year ago and explained to her, I can't get rid of him because of this. I was like, ‘I can't consciously just be like, alright see you later,' you know what I mean,” said Sam.
He wants Cash to have the stable home he and Christine did not have.
"There have been places where I've been and I didn't even unpack my suitcase because I didn't know how long I would be there,” he said.
Sam was 6 and Christine was 8 when they first entered foster care. Four years and eight foster homes later they were adopted.
Another four years later the adoptive parents' rights were terminated and they were back in foster care as teenagers.
More homes, more instability and much more risk when they turned 18 and were on their own.
"And when we talk to young people who are aging out of foster care that is a big concern. Or aging out of the system or kicked out of their home at the age of 18 'cause they're an adult is what happens next,” said David Grewe, executive director of Youth Services of Tulsa.
Grewe said every day through Youth Services doors, young people come for help. Many of them have aged out of foster care and are on the streets or couch surfing.
Some estimates show within three years a third of those teens are homeless, 50 percent are jobless and 30 percent are arrested.
"Some of them, for one reason or another are running away from an unpleasant situation--whether that's in the home or the community or a combination of both,” said Grewe.
Sam explains how quickly things can go wrong.
"I finally set up my own bank account and I got a speeding ticket and I paid that. But... I didn't know how to write a check correctly," said Sam.
“Yeah, it's the little stuff,” said Christine.
“I almost got in hot water. You'd be surprised at how much stuff--like I said they need a stable place to learn how to drive. They need to learn about bank accounts, they need to know what a Social Security number is," said Sam.
"How to get your birth certificate if you don't have one aging out,” said Christine.
Oklahoma House Bill 2495 calls for the Department of Human Services to secure federal money to extend foster care services beyond the age of 18 to 21.
"Part of the idea of extending foster care is to extend not only the financial support we offer our own children, but to extend that emotional support over time as well,” said Grewe.
While that's debated at the Capitol, Christine and Sam are trying to convince college campuses statewide to keep dorms open for students, who aged out of foster care.
"My first semester in college I actually had to like sleep in my car over Thanksgiving break because I didn't have any place to go. Because you can't go back to your old foster home,” said Sam.
David Grewe says Oklahoma needs to rethink its priorities.
"That we look at an investment in our children, whether it's funding public schools or fully funding foster care or programs that assist kids in the system,” he said.
“Permanency is such a key for success for any kind of youth that's aging out,” said Christine.
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