Our country’s foster care system was developed as a temporary fix. It was designed to protect and nurture children whose parents were either unable or unwilling to care for them. Once parents were in a better position to provide a safe and loving environment, their children could return home. Or children would be adopted. Unfortunately, for too many, the temporary fix has become a repetitive arrangement, as they are moved from foster home to foster home. Eventually, they “age out.” Foster care ends when children reach age 18. When youth reach adulthood without a permanent family, they are significantly more likely to experience homelessness, unemployment and incarceration. To ameliorate those circumstances, Nevada’s Clark County Social Service has literally and figuratively, stepped up.
Clark County operates the Step Up program. The aim is to help aged-out former foster youth make the often difficult transition from foster care to financial self-sufficiency. Step Up is a county-wide, one-stop program servicing about 300 young adults every month. Program participants are paired up with a case manager; together they establish goals and collaborate on a plan to reach them.
Assistance comes in many forms. Step Up helps with housing, education, employment and transportation.
Center of attention
Another benefit of the Step Up program is the Young Adult Drop-In Center. It opened in 2015 and is located in Las Vegas, close to a main bus route. The facility features an open kitchen with snacks. Resource cabinets are stocked with school supplies, as well as personal hygiene items. Those in the program can find medical, employment, legal information and community events on bulletin boards. Computers with internet access are available for use.
Becoming financially self-sufficient requires a foundation in financial matters. Former foster youth don’t need to become Certified Financial Planners, but they do need to learn the basics, like budgeting, and establishing credit. This is where SCE Credit Union steps in. The Credit Union provides former foster care youth access to free checking and savings accounts.
Joseph Taylor, a Social Work Supervisor directly involved with the Step Up program, says SCE Credit Union goes above and beyond. “They conduct financial literacy courses, educating our aged-out youth about managing funds and building credit.” Taylor adds, “What’s wonderful is that in addition to group instruction, SCE Credit Union offers one-on-one sessions.”
In fact, SCE Credit Union extends instruction to teens still in foster care, before they age out, preparing them for what’s ahead.
Taylor says that one of the most important things SCE Credit Union does is warn about predatory loans. Nevada has a plethora of pay-day loan businesses that charge exorbitant interest. If borrowing makes sense, the credit union offers the aged-out young adults low-interest options.
“Our partnership with SCE Credit Union means former foster youth get access to real world products and savvy advice,” Taylor says. “They get a foundation in finances that substantially increases their likelihood of success.”
An Independent Life
Those who have spent time in foster care need and deserve help adapting to life outside the system. Step Up is both social safety net and catapult; it makes for safer landings while providing opportunities to launch an independent life. Despite the lingering difficulties and stigma foster children often deal with, success in life is well within their reach and grasp. It only takes a society willing to step up.