Former Foster Child Wants to Help Youth Aging Out of System
COEUR D’ALENE, Idaho – Children in the Idaho foster care system age out at 18, which means unless they and their foster family agree the care will continue until age 21, the young people have to move out.
Ricky Lewis in Coeur d'Alene knows the perils of that transition time well. He tried to go to college, but says he lacked the life skills to be successful – although he is returning this fall. That's why he's exploring ways to set up transitional housing specifically for foster youths, to be managed in recognition of the kinds of challenges they face.
"It would be for youth that are transitioning out of foster care who don't have the right tools to live on their own quite yet,” Lewis explains. “It would be a structured environment."
The idea is based on transitional housing he's seen in other states, and would not be a government program.
As founder of the Idaho Youth Advisory Board, Lewis is looking at grants and private funding for the housing, which would include employment connections for young people. Rent would be charged, and some of the rent returned when former foster youths met certain goals and moved out on their own.
Lewis says ideally, there would be transition homes in three areas of the state – each would house between 10 and 20 young adults.
"We just want to have a support that's going to be there for them when they get married, or when they move on in life to bigger and better things,” he says. “They can still come back for a Thanksgiving meal. We want them to have that sense of permanence."
Idaho does have an Independent Living Program for foster youth ages 15 to 21 that offers life-skills training, but Lewis says not all youths qualify and he sees a need for support through age 23.