Extending support after foster care; Clinton budget includes money for services


While a junior at Northeastern State University in Oklahoma last year, Terri Faye Yaden faced a common college crisis: She needed a car for student teaching.

As one of thousands of young people over 18 who have exceeded the age of those allowed to stay in foster care, Yaden had no family to call on for help. So she called on the Orphan Foundation of America, which stepped in with money to help her buy a car and automotive advice.

The Virginia-based foundation was one of several recognized yesterday at a White House gathering to promote support for young people leaving the foster care system. First lady Hillary Rodham Clinton announced that President Clinton's budget for 2000 includes $280 million over five years to boost support for older foster care children. It's not clear how Maryland will benefit.

"It marks another step forward in our efforts to make life better for our children," Mrs. Clinton told the crowd of about 100 foster care advocates.

The president's proposals include: increasing funds for a training and housing program for older foster care children by 50 percent and the transitional living program by $5 million, offering emergency financial support, and raising the age through which foster care children are eligible for Medicaid from 18 to 21.

Though she thinks it won't be enough, Yaden said she's relieved that people are taking notice.

"There's a vast majority who are falling through the cracks," Yaden said outside the White House. "But, we're just excited that there is an awareness taking place."

Since Yaden graduated from high school in 1995 and left the Cookson Hills orphanage in Oklahoma, she said, the orphan foundation has given her scholarships and guidance.

"They've helped me financially and with decision making," said Yaden, 21, who lives in North Baltimore and plans to attend Towson University this summer. "But, the No. 1 thing they did was believe in me."

Yaden and nine others who grew up in foster care around the country attended the ceremony yesterday. Each represented a success story of making the transition from foster care to adulthood with the help of support services.

"After you leave foster care, the truth is you're nobody's priority," Yaden said. "We need normal, everyday people to volunteer to just take an interest in us."

Each year, 20,000 young people are forced to leave foster care programs because they "age out" when they reach 18 or receive their high school diploma, Mrs. Clinton said during her 10-minute address in the East Room.

When Terry Harrak, 19, of Alexandria, Va., turned 18, she found herself homeless after having to leave a foster care family home. She stayed with friends and teachers and slept in subway stations. "Everything I was used to shut down," Harrak said.

After sleeping a night in a hospital emergency room, Harrak made a pact with herself to get a college degree.

She entered a transitional living program for homeless youths where she learned life skills and received help with schoolwork and finding college scholarships. She graduated high school and is attending a community college.

A year before he outgrew the foster care system, Rico Shaw, 18, began laying the groundwork for his future. Shaw enrolled in the United Parcel Service's School-to-Career Partnership for Maryland Youth in Foster Care.

Shaw has an apartment in Prince George's County and is studying for his high school diploma while working part time as a loader for UPS in Washington. He said he keeps in touch with his mentor at the school-to-career partnership.

"The program has helped shape me in many different ways," Shaw said.

Pub Date: 1/30/99

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