Child welfare advocates push measure to extend Ohio's foster care services through age 21

Goal is to help young adults with 'no safety net'

Alexis Cook was 18 when she left the state’s foster care system in 2008.

She had just graduated from Winton Woods High School after moving from a group home to semi-independent living. A social worker helped her find an apartment. But she didn’t know how to cook or ride a bus. She got a job she didn’t have the skills or discipline to keep.

After a couple years, she was evicted and homeless. She got pregnant with twins.

“I was homeless for seven months while I was pregnant. A lot of days, I didn’t eat,” said Cook, who is now 23. “I had to resort to bad behavior just to survive.”

She begged for money. She sometimes traded sex for something to eat or a place to sleep.

“You don’t know who’s who and what’s what,” she said. “This is a mean world we live in.”

It can be especially mean for teenagers who “age out” of the foster care system without being adopted or reunited with family.

While some of those young adults go to college or get a job and build a stable life for themselves, experts estimate hundreds across the state end up like Cook – homeless, desperate and alone.

That’s why child welfare advocates are pushing to extend foster care services to the age of 21 in Ohio. Washington, D.C., and 25 states, including Indiana, already have extended services beyond the age of 18.  In Kentucky, foster youth can petition the state before they turn 19 and request additional services until they’re 21.

“It’s definitely the right thing to do for a very deserving population,” said Mark Mecum, executive director of the Ohio Association of Child Caring Agencies in Columbus. “And we have so much information that shows us if we do this right, not only will it tremendously improve their lives, but it will save our society so much in costs.”

View interactive infographic "What happens to young people after foster care?"

WCPO Insiders can read more about the proposed law, what it would cost and what can happen to young adults who age out of the foster care system with no family to help them.

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