May is National Foster Care Month, a time to increase awareness of the 440,000 U.S. children living in the foster care system and how we can help improve their quality of life. Many foster youth face barriers to the education, care and resources they need to navigate adulthood successfully after leaving the foster care system.
A majority of former foster youth face challenges. Nearly half are homeless, incarcerated or on welfare within two years of aging out of care. Half graduate high school. Ten percent enter college, but fewer than 3% go on to earn a degree.
Securing stable employment is critical to a productive adulthood. However, about six-in-10 individuals nationally are unemployed one year after leaving foster care, and a little over half are jobless five years after aging out of the system.
Ignoring the plight of foster children is costly. According to the Jim Casey Youth Opportunities Initiative, a project of the Annie E. Casey Foundation, taxpayers and communities pay approximately $300,000 in social costs for every child who ages out of foster care. Costs include public assistance, incarceration and lost wages to a community over that person’s lifetime – or almost $8 billion in social costs to the U.S. annually.
WellCare Health Plans helps young people reach their full potential. It’s our social responsibility and why we’re committed to giving foster youth across the country the skills and resources they need to thrive as adults.
To support the 17,000 Arizona foster youth, the WellCare Community Foundation donated $500,000 to First Star’s innovative educational program that gives high school-age foster youth the skills they need to transition successfully into college or careers. Through this donation, the program is expanding its current student cohort beyond Maricopa County, enabling recruitment from Gila, Pinal, Mohave, Coconino, Apache, Navajo and Yavapai counties.
Through the program, First Star partners with Arizona State University (ASU) and Access ASU to prepare and empower the next generation. Participants work with professional staffers and peer mentors as they spend their summers living in college dormitories participating in monthly school-year sessions. More than 90% of academy graduates attend two- or four-year colleges.
In southeast Missouri, there are more than 1,000 foster children in Greene, Christian, and Taney counties. Many children enter foster care abused, neglected and emotionally burdened. Ambassadors for Children unites communities to care for these children through a variety of programs that provide new clothing, comfort bags, blankets, free tutoring, self-esteem boosting activities and more. Missouri Care, a WellCare company, supplements Ambassadors for Children’s service delivery as part of its commitment to removing social barriers to accessing quality, affordable healthcare.
In 2018, the Illinois WellCare Community Connections team partnered with Junior Achievement (JA) in Peoria to launch “High School Heroes.” WellCare’s $10,000 investment supported a 12-month, three-phase pilot program to help foster youth develop work and leadership skills. In Phase 1, students received a 13-week training program in basic financial literacy, budgeting and job readiness. During Phase 2, students learned how to be role models and assistants to teachers in K-2 classrooms in low-income neighborhoods. Phase 3 takes place in summer 2019 with a job shadowing program where students will learn about various professions while gaining transferable skills for the workforce.
In Kentucky, we are connecting teens, who are leaving the system and who don’t have strong family or community connections, with a virtual life coach to help them make important life decisions around their health, safety and education.
Through a smartphone application, coaches engage members based on five key areas of self-reported behavior: sleep, presence, activity, creativity and eating (S.P.A.C.E.), along with energy and willpower. Over time, the app delivers personalized tips, guidance, insights and support that members use to achieve and sustain better health and wellbeing.
Additionally, WellCare and the Kentucky Court Appointed Special Advocates (CASA) Network are helping foster care children suffering from opioid addiction. WellCare and CASA identify specific issues and solutions to assist children affected by opioid use in their families. CASA advocates for the child, attends court sessions with the child and family, and intersects with the state’s Department of Community Based Services and providers, ensuring children and their families receive needed support.
If we ensure that the essentials of safe, satisfying adulthoods – education, employment, a home, resilient family life and good health – are possible for foster youth, their futures can be promising.