Young people who find themselves homeless can hope for a temporary family from Iowa’s foster-care system, but they lose even that once they turn 18. After the death of Reggie Kelsey, a mentally challenged Des Moines man who’d become homeless after he turned 18 a few years ago, pressure increased to find a solution for the needs of those who “age out” of the system. Carol Behrer is director of the Youth Policy Institute of Iowa, which has a grant to try helping those young adults. Not even kids with all the advantages of society are fully able at that age to handle all of life’s ups and downs, she points out, and yet kids who’ve grown up in the foster-care system are told to go out there on their own when they hit that 18th birthday. The Youth Policy Institute is partnering with the Iowa Department of Human Services, United Way, and other youth-serving agencies to teach foster kids what they’ll need to know on their own. Behrer says clearly we need to do a better job of getting kids high-school diplomas and college education, as well as employment skills like finding and job and even the “life skill” of getting to work on time every day. Having access to health care, a “medical home” where they have your records and know your allergies, and knowing how to find a safe place to life, make your rent payments, and just knowing that you have to have insurance…they’re all important for someone setting out to live on your own. A three-year grant from the Jim Casey Youth Opportunities Initiative will make possible a big part of the program — the “Opportunity Passport.” Financial literacy training, a savings account and ATM debit account are “seeded” with some money from the fund and the program helps the young person manage and save, they’ll match what they save, dollar for dollar. It could be a car, an apartment, college tuition — any goal that helps them learn responsible money management. Behrer says fifty foster kids in the Des Moines area are already enrolled in the program and have the accounts, with an adult in their life helping oversee how they handle the new responsibility.
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