Thousands Of Children Set To Age Out Of Foster Care As Moratorium Lifts Sept. 30
Teshiana Smith-Nicols was 19 years old when she aged out of foster care.
“I feel as though the system could help more teens aging out of foster care by really securing more safety nets,” Smith-Nicols said.
Foster teens like her have one choice if they want to continue receiving assistance from the government-- they must enroll in college or in a training program. Last December, that changed, when the federal government waived these requirements, as part of Congress’ Consolidated Appropriations Act.
But the moratorium expires on Sept. 30, leaving thousands of children across the country without support. The state department of Health and Human Resources says 275 teenagers in West Virginia will be affected.
Foster teens who are pushed out of the system without support often become homeless.
Smith-Nicols was in college when she aged out of foster care, and though she continued to receive aid for college, she has been financially independent for two years. At age 21, she will graduate this December with a bachelor’s degree in social work.
She’s volunteering as an advocate to help make changes to how the government deals with foster children as they approach their 18th birthday, like help with housing assistance and health care.
“Improving access to resources would really be a major change. This will help them to feel as though they have those connections, those lifelong partnerships, those lifelong people in their life,” she said.
Lawmakers in Washington introduced a bipartisan bill in May 2020 to extend and expand support for foster youth. This bill would provide more funding for foster children who are aging out of care, and allow more flexibility for youth to receive emergency resources until they turn 25.
"I believe that in order to create change, there really has to be an open ear to hearing what foster youth and those who have aged out have to say,” Smith-Nicols said. “As a representative, and a person who has experienced foster care, I truly believe that it is within the system's ability to really try to implement change."