A program designed for young people who “age out” of the foster care system has helped more than 2,000 successfully transition to independent adulthood.
The Ohio Department of Job and Family Services (ODJFS) said that the Bridges Program allows young people in foster care between their 18th and 21st birthdays to request housing and other supportive services, as long as they are in school, gainfully employed, participating in an employment program, or have a medical condition that prevents them from going to school or working.
Highland County JFS Director Katie Smith told The Times-Gazette that at present there are approximately 175 local children in foster care.
“We have eight kids that are 17 years old in our custody,” she said. “I am not sure whether they will age out or if we will be able to make a permanent plan for them before they turn 18. A permanent plan could include reunification or legal custody to a relative or non-relative kin.”
ODJFS Director Kimberly Henderson said the Bridges program fills an important need for young people as they move forward in their lives.
“They learn how to find their first apartment, further their education, manage a household budget, and take care of their health,” she said. “We are happy to be able to offer these services to help young adults transitioning from foster care gain their footing as adults, achieve their goals, and build successful futures.”
ODJFS administers Bridges through a contract with the Child and Family Health Collaborative of Ohio, which works in partnership with experienced provider agencies throughout the state.
Through regular meetings with Bridges representatives, participants develop goals, learn skills and access services related to employment, education, health care and household maintenance.
Mark Mecum, CEO for the Child and Family Health Collaborative of Ohio, said they were very proud of participants who achieved their goals of going to college, getting a full-time job and improving their overall well-being.
“We hope to connect with hundreds of more young adults to empower them to reach their potential and individual goals,” he said.
According to ODJFS, about 900 youth age out of foster care annually.
The agency said that if they don’t qualify for Bridges, or if they choose not to participate, foster children still can seek supportive services from their county public Children Services agency.
Until July 2019, only youth who emancipated from the custody of public Children Services agencies were eligible for Bridges. However, the last biennial budget bill expanded eligibility to include youth who emancipate from Ohio’s juvenile courts and the Ohio Department of Youth Services.
Reach Tim Colliver at 937-402-2571.