Every Jan. 1 a plethora of laws either take affect or amend existing code, usually with little notice from the public.
Some of those changes, though, have far-reaching effects.
One such change in state law, as reported by the Mount Airy News’ Terri Flagg, is the expansion of the statewide foster care program, to include some young adults up to age 21.
Under the old law, once a child reached age 18 — legal adulthood — they aged out of the state foster care system. That means any sort of state aid the youth had been receiving, be it food and clothing assistance, housing at state expense, health insurance, whater it might be ended on that day.
Imagine how much the typical family still does for an 18-year-old, particularly one still in high school or college. From providing clothes and food to rent-free living space, to giving guidance when navigating the new adult world of job and school applications and highway laws and paying bills. From providing a car or car payments to insurance and medical care.
All of that, prior to Jan. 1, would simply cease to exist for a foster care youth turning 18. Combine that with the fact that oftentimes, those in foster care had received the least amount of preparation and training for the looming adulthood, and life became nearly impossible for those youth.
Now, however, those turning 18 can still remain in a foster-care program that helps them move into an independent adulthood, gradually, over a three-year span. It can provide for job training, and even help with post-secondary education. Money for basics such as food, shelter, transportation costs and educational supplies are provided.
It’s not a hand-out. To be in the program, a young person has to meet and maintain certain criteria — there has to be some effort and work on their part, such as being employed, enrolled in approved employment and education programs, or attending college.
This is one of those new laws that won’t directly affect a lot of people. In Surry County, for instance, based on the current number of youths involved with foster care services, there might not even be 15 young people who will be ready for the new program over the next five years.
But for those who do utilize the program, the results will be life-changing. Foster kids who had little to look forward to upon turning 18 can now have a fighting chance to find the same level of success in the education arena and work place that so many others take for granted.
This is a good new law. We’re glad to see it was implemented, and glad to say it was Rep. Sarah Stevens, R-90, who was instrumental in shepherding the bill through the General Assembly. She has long had a keen interest in the welfare of children in the state’s foster care system, and this is a significant program that will make life-long differences for some of those youths.