Tennessee may be the first state in the country to offer every teenager who leaves the foster care system a personal guide into adulthood. Officials have announced the expansion of case management to every kid who ages out of state custody.
It’s a vulnerable time. Roughly a quarter end up homeless. Half don’t find jobs. Few go to college.
“The school that I go to, they have no idea where I should take my ACT,” says Jeremiah Brown of Nashville, who is still trying to get his diploma. “So I talked to my [transitional living] worker, and she’s going to help me set it up.”
The non-profit state contractor Youth Villages is adding 15 transitional living specialists and will have 200 of them who will be on call 24-hours a day. They help write a resume, buy a car or just offer dating advice.
Foster kids in Tennessee actually don’t have to leave state custody when they turn 18 any more. But most do.
Department of Children’s Services commissioner Jim Henry says they still like having a mentor. There has been a waiting list, and now the service will be available to all.
“This was really a no-brainer in my opinion, and it was the right thing to do,” Henry says. “And it didn’t cost a whole lot of money.”
The state is upping its annual spending from roughly $2 million to $3 million. Henry says he found the funds by rearranging the department’s budget. Youth Villages is matching the money with private donations.