A former foster youth in Hawaii says a law to extend the voluntary foster care age from 18 to 21 will be like a second chance for many in the foster care system.
The bill was enacted earlier this month, and will take effect in July 2014.
An advocate at the Hawaii Foster Youth Coalition, and former foster youth, Gerald Yutob, says unless youth go on to higher education, they generally have to leave their foster parents homes.
He says the new law will allow youth extra years and support to make the right choices for their future.
Gerald Yutob spoke to Leilani Momoisea about how the age extension will benefit foster youth.
GERALD YUTOB: It helps youth have a lot of resources. They have extra years to find out what they want to do, instead of leaving at 18. That gives them a lot of resources to go to college, work full-time or part-time. This bill has really been a help to a lot of people because a lot of kids, they make wrong decisions at 18. They don't have the right guidance and they just have extra years in the system to better themselves. It's just fortunate for them to have a great opportunity to use those years and take advantage to make positive choices out there in the real world.
LEILANI MOMOISEA: Would you say that 18 is too young for a lot of foster youth?
GY: Yes, Ma'am. 18 is too young, because they just transitioned out of high school, some of them. Some of them drop out or they're working just a minimum wage job. And that's not going to be helping. They need more time.The statistics say that 58% of foster kids graduate high school at age 19 because some of them drop out and they end up getting the GED. It's not a lot of time for them to prep. Some of them just transition and they're not familiar with the area because they're not used to having regular parents support them in school. They're pretty much on their own.
LM: How would you describe the current situation? When you reach 18 do you have to leave your foster parents or do you get the choice to stay?
GY: This rent that they receive, the $529 for higher education. Some foster parents don't receive that. They tell you to pack up. 'You're gone. We're not receiving anything. Good bye. You're on your own'. That's just a junk feeling to have that you're lost and don't have anywhere to go.
LM: So unless you go on to higher education, your parents don't keep getting paid - is that the current situation?
GY: Yes, Ma'am. That's the current situation exactly.
LM: Is there anything else that you want to add at all?
GY:I'm thankful and fortunate that the legislator passed this bill and it's going to take effect next year. It's just a good opportunity for a lot of youth. A lot of youth nowadays are not blessed with all these great chances, but now they have a second chance in life to know what they want. If they want to explore independence they can, and if they want to stay with their foster parents and continue to abide with the resources and they're able to do that as well. It's just a great opportunity for me, as well, because I know I have a lot of friends who are about to age out of the system, and they're lost, without any plan and without that guidance. And it's just a great opportunity to see them shine and take advantage of this.