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New Bridges program to delay when kids age out of foster care faces budget cuts

Posted at 7:37 AM, Jun 12, 2017

CINCINNATI -- A new program called Bridges that would help foster children better transition into adulthood is already in jeopardy even before being implemented.

Established through Ohio House Bill 50 in 2016 and expected to start late this year, Bridges could now be delayed by budget cuts and instead implemented over a three-year period, which advocates say "will cripple the ability of community agencies to build (the) new Bridges program" and that it would serve two-thirds fewer young adults in 2018 than originally planned.

Hamilton County is Ohio's only county where teens can age out of foster care at 21 instead of 18, something Meredith Hicks, Lighthouse Youth Services planning and policy director, said has been possible through levy funds.

"So now the program would be much harder to get off the ground, and it would only serve a small portion of the number it was intended to serve," Hicks said.

RELATED: New study details the cost of Hamilton County kids aging out of foster care

In January, Gov. John Kasich originally allocated $11 million of state funds per year for Bridges. According to Ohio Fostering Connections, a new version is now in the Ohio Senate that would implement it over three years instead of all at once to fill a hole in the state budget.

Twenty-one-year-old Lakasia Williams stayed in foster care until age 21 because a court allowed her to do so as she juggled finishing high school with a full-time job.

"At 18, you have a lot of things going on - you're just finishing school," Williams said. "It's a lot to take in when you automatically end up on your own and you've had support for so long."

Statistics show 26 percent of 18-year-olds who are forced to emancipate from foster care experienced homelessness, and 53 percent hadn't completed high school or received a GED. Lighthouse said Bridges could impact up to 3,000 Ohioans aged 18 through 21.

"To have the support for so long (and) to have it stripped away from you and have no source on how to do it yourself is very hard," Williams said.