This post originally appeared as an op-ed in the Courier Journal on January 27, 2023.

By Tamara Vest, Eltuan Dawson, Cynthia Schepers, and Felicity Therese Krueger

Current and former foster youth need both tangible and intangible resources to successfully transition into adulthood. Tangible supports are programs and services that provide a resource or assistance for young people such as financial support, housing assistance and educational opportunities. Intangible resources include those trusting adults, mentors, peers and even organizations that help to build self-efficacy and confidence in youth.

Tamara Vest

“As an individual who aged out of foster care at the age of 18, I realized very quickly how important having tangible support during young adulthood is for people like me.

“I wouldn’t have been able to reach my current achievements without the help of tangible assistance such as the tuition waiver, educational training voucher, and transportation assistance.

“With the help of tangible support, I was able to graduate college and return to grad school, as well as receive my license and a car. These supports helped me catch up to where my peers were and created a sense of normalcy.”

Tamara Vest

“As an individual who aged out of foster care at the age of 18, I realized very quickly how important having tangible support during young adulthood is for people like me.

“I wouldn’t have been able to reach my current achievements without the help of tangible assistance such as the tuition waiver, educational training voucher, and transportation assistance.

“With the help of tangible support, I was able to graduate college and return to grad school, as well as receive my license and a car. These supports helped me catch up to where my peers were and created a sense of normalcy.”

Eltuan Dawson

“Since 2012, I’ve had the privilege to engage with and become a member of True Up Kentucky’s Peer Network. True Up is committed to supporting transitions from agency care to independent living.

“The Peer Network has helped to build upon my network, and helped to instill essential life skills using practices such as cooking classes through collaborative resources such as YMCA Safe Place, providing mentorship through connections with Orphan Care Alliance and most recently, housing through the Family Scholar House program. These efforts have helped me to reach independence goals and maintain stability within different aspects of my adult life.”

Cynthia Schepers

“Being a former foster youth, I have experienced a long period of life where I lacked intangible support. It wasn’t until I was connected to True Up in 2016 that I had consistent support from someone other than myself. True Up is an organization that supports young adults with a foster care experience and connects them to resources based on their specific needs. Not only did I receive mentor-like support from the executive director but True Up also connected me to other life-changing organizations, such as Orphan Care Alliance, a group that matches life coaches to young adults with foster care experience. My life coach ended up being more like the family I never had, and it is now where I spend my holidays.

“The value of organizations such as True Up and Orphan Care Alliance cannot be overlooked when it comes to a foster youth’s treatment journey. My life is more whole because of my connection to resources such as mentors, life coaches, and chosen family.”

Cynthia Schepers

“Being a former foster youth, I have experienced a long period of life where I lacked intangible support. It wasn’t until I was connected to True Up in 2016 that I had consistent support from someone other than myself. True Up is an organization that supports young adults with a foster care experience and connects them to resources based on their specific needs. Not only did I receive mentor-like support from the executive director but True Up also connected me to other life-changing organizations, such as Orphan Care Alliance, a group that matches life coaches to young adults with foster care experience. My life coach ended up being more like the family I never had, and it is now where I spend my holidays.

“The value of organizations such as True Up and Orphan Care Alliance cannot be overlooked when it comes to a foster youth’s treatment journey. My life is more whole because of my connection to resources such as mentors, life coaches, and chosen family.”

Felicity Therese Krueger

“Young people cannot thrive without a supportive adult by their side. When I was young, it was easy to feel completely alone. I was struggling; with no knowledge that other people were going through the same thing. The world felt bleak and quiet. I found comfort in fiction; these made up characters seemed to understand me and in a way that felt supportive. But I needed real support from the adults in my life.

“Providing youth and young adults in the child welfare system with intangible supports, like caring connections to adults, would change lives! Transitioning to adulthood is already scary as a foster youth but even scarier with no one by your side. I encourage everyone reading this to support the young people in your life.”

Former foster kids climb steeper hills

Research shows that young adults who have experienced foster care typically have a steeper hill to climb when transitioning to adulthood than their peers not in foster care. These individuals are at higher risk for homelessness, substance misuse, mental illness, incarceration, unemployment, and lack of higher education. For example, in school year 2020-2021, the 4-year high school graduation rate for non-foster care students in Kentucky was 90.4% compared to 67.2% for students in foster care. Likewise, 31% of Kentucky youth transitioning out of foster care experienced homelessness by age 21.

Through important federal reforms in child welfare, some programs have been established over the years to assist youth in areas such as housing, education, transportation and employment. In Kentucky, educational and employment supports include the tuition waiver for foster alumni, the Education and Training Voucher Program, and the fostering success internship program. Housing supports include the Project L.I.F.E Housing Program and the Family Unification Program. Other financial support may also be available to some foster alumni through extended aftercare services.

However, many young people continue to face significant barriers to opportunities to succeed in school, work and community life. In response, Journey to Success Kentucky, a team of dedicated young adults with lived experience, is working to make policy changes that will ensure better outcomes for youth in foster care. One priority is to ensure that each young person is well-supported in their transition from adolescence to adulthood and that agencies are appropriately resourced to provide this support.

Journey to Success is a federal policy advocacy campaign that seeks to improve the quality of life for current and former foster youth. In 2020, 688 youth transitioned out of the Kentucky foster care system. Alongside other state-based campaign partners across the country, Kentucky Youth Advocates and True Up are leading a project to build advocacy momentum in Kentucky.

It is important that we all do our part in supporting the young people impacted by the foster care system, including donating to organizations that support foster alumni, providing grants or scholarships for those communities and providing opportunities for elevating youth voices in order to identify and understand their needs.

For more information on how you can support Kentucky’s foster youth and alumni or to learn about more tangible support available to them to help spread awareness, visit kyrise.ky.gov.

Tamara Vest is a foster alumni and Supervisor of the Voices of the Commonwealth Youth Leadership Council, and interns for Kentucky Youth Advocates. Eltuan Dawson is a foster alumni, child welfare advocate, and youth development specialist. Cynthia Schepers is a foster alumni and Peer Coach Coordinator now working for True Up and Kentucky Youth Advocates. Felicity Therese Krueger is a foster alumni, child welfare advocate, and Emotional CPR trainer from rural Kentucky.