HARRISBURG -- Connie Iannetta was placed in foster care just shy of her 12th birthday, the third generation of her family to be placed in substitute care.
“At 18, I ‘aged out’ of the foster care system without permanency and terrified,” Iannetta said. “Housing was my greatest issue, as I bounced from family to friends’ houses. Things didn’t seem to ever work out in my favor. Without a stable home, I couldn’t keep a job. Without a stable job, I couldn’t pay bills or get enrolled in college.”
Iannetta, the founder of the PA Chapter of Foster Care Alumni of America, told her story to members of the House Human Services and Children and Youth committees who came to Manor College in Jenkintown to learn about the challenges faced by children in foster care as they transition into adulthood.
“This is one of the many untold stories of foster care,” said Rep. Tom Murt (R-Montgomery/Philadelphia), who requested the hearing. “While foster care is critical to supporting children in need, we must better understand the enormous challenges faced when they leave the system.”
“The transition can be harsh,” said Rep. Gene DiGirolamo (R-Bucks), chairman of the Human Services Committee. “Many foster children are forced to find adequate housing, education and employment when they reach 18, though the system does an inadequate job helping these children transition into adulthood.”
“We must find a way for the state to help them,” said Rep. Kathy Watson (R-Bucks), chairman of the Children and Youth Committee. “While we properly focus on caring for them as kids, we must find a way to help our foster children become successful adults. This isn’t just a family problem, but one that impacts the entire Commonwealth.”
Iannetta testified that she spent two years struggling with homelessness before finding temporary housing at each school and college she attended.
“lt is of great importance and a dire need that we make a collective effort to give young people the tools and support necessary for them to become successful, contributing members of society,” Iannetta said.
JR Kenny, director of Government Relations for the Boys and Girls Clubs of America, testified that one-in-four young adults who leave foster care experience homelessness and struggle with mental health challenges such as depression, substance abuse and anxiety disorders.
Dawn Holden Woods, CEO of Turning Points for Children, the leading foster care case management agency in Philadelphia, projects 250 youth ages 17-22 will “age out” of the foster care system in the city.
“Unprepared to meet the demands of independent living, with little support from family, little to no financial resources, and often facing significant and debilitating mental health issues, these young adults face higher rates of homelessness, post-traumatic stress disorder and unemployment than young people who have not been touched by the system,” Woods said.
Woods argued that young adults need programs to help them address family/support system issues, as well as teach them independent living skills, so that they can learn the tools to build stable, successful adult lives.
Groups like Turning Points for Children are linking with private organizations to help young adults in foster care, like YVLifeSet, operated by the Tennessee-based Youth Villages, that gives participants the support to achieve their goals in housing, employment and education.
Over the past two years, Turning Points has brought together a unique partnership of
public funders, foundations and others to introduce YVlifeSet, the only program in
Philadelphia outside government with the specific goal of empowering these young
adults to follow a path to a positive future.
“Within the first 11 months of the program, Turning Points has helped 50 young people
secure stable housing and has provided all 50 young people with job training and/or
employment to ensure that housing is sustainable,” Woods said. “To date, we have had eight successful discharges from our YVlifeSet program and currently have 42 participants.”
“We must consider all options in helping foster children transition into adulthood,” Murt said. “We will take what we learned here and share it with all House members as we develop legislation to help these kids in need.”
Representative Thomas P. Murt
Pennsylvania House of Representatives
Media Contact: David Foster