Extended Foster Care Bill Helps Older Teens Further their Education

The Daily Commercial based out of Lake County did an article featuring one of the teens that will benefit from extended foster care. Thank you Theresa Campbell for this feature and taking time to speak with Lakesha. To visit the article click here.

Lakesha Griffin is smiling with a sense of relief these days. The 17-year-old Leesburg High school student will benefit from a bill signed in May 2013 by Gov. Rick Scott that will allow young adults living in the child welfare system to have the option to remain in foster care until age 21 in order to accomplish their educational goals.

“This gives Lakesha more support. She is going to turn 18 in the middle of the school year, and in previous years, she would have had to move out on her own upon turning 18,” said Nicole Pulcini Mason, director of community affairs for Kids Central Inc., who believes Senate Bill 103 6, sponsored by Sen. Nancy Detert — and renamed the Nancy C. Detert Common Sense and Compassion Independent Living Act — was the right legislation to sign into law. Griffin thinks so, too. “I would have been really scared,” the teen said of the stress of moving out on her own on the middle of a senior year at LHS. “How would I live on my own? If I was out in the real world, I would have to focus on school and bills and that would be too much while still in high school.”

Griffin will turn 18 on Dec. 11. After she graduates from Leesburg High School, she plans to attend Lake-Sumter State College and then further her education in Tallahassee at Florida A&M University. “In five or 10 years, I see myself working with the mentally disabled, because I really like working with them,” she said. “I can bond with them.”

The teen has been in foster care since infancy. “The Department of Children and Families has been in my life since I was 2 days old,” she said, recalling she lived in the home of a family friend until age 14, followed by a stay at a Marion County foster home for two years. June 30 will mark her one-year anniversary of being back in foster care in Lake County.

“It feels better to me,” she said of living in Lake County. “Foster care is not as bad as people may think that it is. My mother was not able to take care of me, and I feel that I am in a better place. I used to be mad at her for letting me go into foster care, but now I am actually thankful for it. I have a better life being in care.” Mason praises the teen’s attitude and outlook on her life. “She is so motivated, smart, caring and a hard worker,” Mason said. “Her grades are great (As and Bs) and she was recognized as a leader recently.”

“I find Lakesha to be a vibrant and bright young woman,” added Stacy Morgan, director of Healthy Start at Kids Central Inc. “I’ve truly enjoyed being a mentor to her and hope that I have helped guide and shape her in a positive manner. I know she is destined for great success and will truly make an impact wherever she choose to focus. I’ve tried to be a strong role model and hope that one day she too will return the favor to another.” Morgan also touts the extended foster care bill as needed legislation. “This will give our young adults leaving the foster care system more security and a smoother transition into adulthood,” Morgan said. “Most 18-year-olds who didn’t grow up with abuse or neglect aren’t ready to go out on their own at 18, and these youths aren’t either. Extended foster care gives them the safety net they need for a few more years.

“I can’t imagine Lakesha setting out on her own the day that she turns 18 while still in high school. I feel better knowing that she will have a host family to help launch her.”

However, under the new law, most of the young adults 18 and older, cannot live in a traditional foster home. Kids Central Inc. is currently seeking host families and apartment-style housing for these youths. “The need is critical,” John Cooper, CEO of Kids Central Inc. said in a statement. “For these youth to be successful and for them to avoid more disruptions and setbacks, we need local housing for them.”

Kids Central Inc. wants to find suitable and safe housing options for these young adults, and the agency noted by placing placing older teens like Griffin into semi-independent style housing will help them become independent gradually. Also, it will keep them in their communities and avoid another change of schools.

Residents interested in learning more about how to become a host family can visit KidsCentralinc.org and click on the Request for Proposals link, or call Independent Living Supervisor Hannah Rios at 352-387-3551.