New Funds for Older Foster Youth

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The Baltimore-based Annie E. Casey Foundation and Seattle-based Casey Family Programs (CSF) have created the Jim Casey Youth Opportunities Initiative to help, in the words of initiative director Gary Stangler, "transform the way communities view their responsibility to youth who have been removed from their families and placed in foster care."

The three-year $18 million campaign is designed to help foster children between the ages of 16 and 21. "Policy-makers and practitioners need to realize that there is an unmet problem in too many of their communities," said Casey Foundation President Douglas Nelson. "Thousands of kids find themselves on their own when foster care ends, and they need help at a very vulnerable point in their lives."

The initiative's grant-making committee has met once and will start awarding unsolicited grants this October. Stangler says selected sites for grants include Nashville, Atlanta, Indianapolis and Kansas City; he hopes to reach 15 to 20 states in three years. There is no plan to open the grants for applications, Stangler says, because he can't let his handful of staff  "become program officers," although he welcomes information about programs that merit consideration.

The money, says Casey Family Programs President Ruth Massinga, will go to established programs for youth leaving foster care that address problems in four major areas: education, employment, health care and housing. "We are trying to make groups out there more robust and able to attract more kids they can help," she says.

Those areas reflect common struggles for youth aging out of foster care. A 1992 study on emancipated foster youth, conducted by Westat for the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, found that only 54 percent had completed high school, 49 percent were employed at the time of the interview, 38 percent had held a job for more than a year, and that their median weekly salary was $205. After coming off of the foster care rolls, 40 percent of the youth remained a cost to the public as prisoners, welfare recipients or both.

The effort by the two leaders of youth-serving philanthropies (Casey assets stand at $3 billion; CFP's at $2.9 billion) follows what creator Celeste Broder calls a "huge swing towards focusing on kids aging out of the system." Broder, who said her Portland, Ore.-based website expects to compete for some of the Youth Opportunity Initiative grants, points to the Chaffee Foster Care Independence Act as the key to pumping vigor into this part of the youth service field. The act, passed in 1999, increased funding for transitional housing for aging-out youth and allowed greater access to Medicaid for those youth.

Contact: Jim Casey, Youth Opportunities Initiative, (301) 656-0348.