Republican state Sen. Tamara Barringer of Cary has a well-earned reputation as a thoughtful lawmaker who has carved out an expertise on children’s issues in the North Carolina General Assembly. Her efforts on behalf of foster children now stand to come to fruition. Her colleagues tend to pay attention when Barringer speaks, and it will be good for foster kids and for the state if they do so now.
Barringer has a proposal, now in a budget committee, that would allow some children in foster care who might lose benefits, and therefore be turned out on their own, to continue receiving those benefits. Currently, state law allows the benefits to continue until a foster child reaches the age of 21, provided that person is a full-time student.
That’s fine, but Barringer and some experts note that foster children who are not full-time students and are turned out at 18 aren’t really ready for that transition. Many have been in turbulent home situations at some point in their lives, which has affected their school work and their personal relationships with guardians or even friends. The best foster parents do a remarkable job in trying to provide security for young people. But for many foster kids, there remains a level of uncertainty.
And all parents could ask themselves: Are most kids ready to exit for the “real world” at the age of 18? Some, perhaps, but not many. And going off to college doesn’t really count. It takes that four years, with gradually more and more independence, to attain the maturity and experience to live on one’s own.
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Barringer would have eligibility for benefits expand to include those young people who are in the process of getting a high school diploma or a GED, are in college or vocational schools part-time or are working 80 hours a month. Also covered would be young adults who have medical problems.
The senator’s proposal also would allow those in foster care who are living away from their foster families to continue with benefits if they are living in a college dorm.
This is just good, compassionate and common-sense legislation. It’s smart for the state to continue to invest in young people who are on a path to being responsible adults even if they are beyond the age of 18.
Barringer notes that ample research shows that foster kids who are turned out of their homes at 18 are more likely to fall into crime or homelessness. With some benefits, they might well continue education or find productive work lives that would help them overcome the issues that created a need for their foster care in the first place.
Let us hope the senator’s colleagues in the legislature recognize the wisdom in her ideas.