A new program signed into law in Ohio in 2016 has finally seen its start up earlier this month. When the governor signed Substitute House Bill 50, Ohio became the state to watch with our new Bridges program, under the direction of Ohio Jobs and Family Services. This program specifically addresses the needs of foster care young adults aging out of the system. Previously, individuals in foster care who turned 18 years old were released from the state’s care and considered independent adults. However, this transition was typically made with no assistance from the state nor from either their foster or birth families.
Few 18-year-olds are ready for such independent adult living situations. Although many students that age move on to college and careers, they tend to do so with family support and assistance. Consider all the transitions young adults make in living arrangements, schooling, as well as career, financial, and health care planning. In fact, according to a press release from OJFS, “Few of us have the skills, tools and wisdom we need to live on our own and make informed career decisions when we turn 18,” said Cynthia Dungey, director of the Ohio Department of Job and Family Services (ODJFS), which is administering Bridges through a contract with the Child and Family Health Collaborative of Ohio. “Bridges will provide the helping hand many youth need during an often turbulent time. It will help former foster youth become successful, self-sufficient adults” (“New Bridges Program”).
Between 2012 and 2016 alone, the number of youth in Ohio’s foster care system in danger of aging out increased 20 percent (Kelly). Not only that the number of youth in foster care increased 16 percent in the same time frame. With more children in the system, the projections are high for more young adults aging out of the system each year without any safety net or family to help them transition.
Bridges is a voluntary program for 18 to 21-year-old former foster care youth in school or an education program, working, or who have a medical condition preventing them from going to school or working. Even if the young adults do not qualify in these categories, they may still be eligible for supportive services through Ohio’s public children’s services agencies, which are legally required to help if asked.
The Bridges program is being touted as a possible model for the 25 states which have not yet revamped their foster care programs. A collaborative project between state and local service agencies focused on the issues of transitioning youth, former foster care youth have opportunities for mentorship with Bridges representatives, as well as for participating in life skills and other training. Ohio’s program also includes an advisory council engaging former fostered youth, along with the juvenile court system, and foster
and children services.
Kelly, John. “Bridges, Ohio’s Extended Foster Care Program, is Underway.”The Chronicle of Social Change. 7 Feb. 2018.
“New Bridges Program to Help Former Foster Youth to Achieve Independence.” Ohio Jobs and Family Services. 2 Feb. 2018.