A new project in eastern Iowa aims to smooth the transition for foster children who age out of the system. Organizers of “Bridging the Gap” will meet today with Iowa Senator Chuck Grassley to discuss the program. Grassley, who co-founded and is co-chairman of the Senate Caucus on Foster Youth, says thousands of foster kids nationwide are falling through cracks in the system.
“We’ve found the practice is that the states shove them from one foster home to another, they never get adopted, they become 18 years of age and they’re ‘independent,'” Grassley says. “They’re thrown out in the street. They take their clothes in a garbage bag, go down the road and maybe be homeless, who knows?”
The new program is based in Cedar Rapids and aims to fill a suitcase with items for each foster child who reaches 18 and has to leave.
“This may sound like not much, but for these kids, it’s an awful good thing, things like bedding, pots and pans and cleaning supplies,” Grassley says. “This effort is so valuable.”
Grassley helped enact the Fostering Connections to Success and Increasing Adoptions Act of 2008. It gave states an option to extend support for youth remaining in foster care to age 21 as long as they’re in school, working or otherwise preparing for work. The law requires each state to have a procedure that ensures every child leaving foster care has a transition plan created on his or her behalf.
Grassley says, “If there’s one thing I have learned from kids that are in foster care, what they’d like to do is be like other kids, have a permanent home, have a loving mother and dad.” Just in the Cedar Rapids area, 900 children are in foster care. Every year, at least 25 of them turn 18, graduate from high school and are sent into the world.