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WV Using Bypassed Federal Funds for Foster Kids' Independence

PHOTO: West Virginia officials say the state wants to start taking advantage of federal money it has passed up until now, intended to help former foster children start independent lives as young adults. Photo credit: WVU-CED.
PHOTO: West Virginia officials say the state wants to start taking advantage of federal money it has passed up until now, intended to help former foster children start independent lives as young adults. Photo credit: WVU-CED.
November 27, 2013

CHARLESTON, W.Va. - West Virginia has missed out on hundreds of thousands of dollars intended to help foster children start independent lives as they age out of the system. But that may be changing.

The federal government provides $200 million a year in so-called "Chafee funds" nationally, to help foster teens start their lives as adults. Cindy Largent-Hill, juvenile monitor for the state court system, said that's important support at a vulnerable point for young people. She's glad the state will now take advantage of the opportunity to help them get launched.

"This is really their conduit to being successful adults," she said. "This gives them the supports and skills on integrating into young adulthood."

People close to the process say the state simply had failed to use grants offered by the federal government. Nikki Tennis, who directs children's services for the court system, said it's enough money to do a lot of good.

"We've given back funding in previous years because we haven't utilized it effectively enough," she said. "Hundreds of thousands of dollars, at one point."

Tennis said the money covers a broad range of needs, including transportation, medical expenses and other costs of living. She said it also can pay for all types of tuition, from a university or community college to a beauty school or apprenticeship program.

"For assistance with school, for assistance with living expenses, clothing," she said. "It can really help them get a start on life."

Largent-Hill said the funding could be available for young people as old as 23 and is a good reason to stay connected to the system. She recommended that anyone who might qualify check with their case worker, or the West Virginia University Center for Excellence in Disabilities.

"Think of the things that you needed when you left home," she said, "I don't know about you guys, but I wasn't ready for independent living until I was well into my 20s."

Largent-Hill described the change as part of a broad and, so far, largely non-controversial change in how the state of West Virginia handles some children's issues.

More information is online at modify.cedwvu.org.

Dan Heyman, Public News Service - WV