Hope rising for foster kids older than 18

In the past, foster children who reached age 18 had funding from the Hawaii Department of Health Services stopped, unless they were near graduation, and then it would stop. If the parents they were living with didn’t adopt them, or a relative didn’t take them in, they had to fend for themselves. Recently that has changed. Hooray!

I met with Jamie Lee Kai and Patricia Duh last week to talk about some of the great new opportunities for the 18-21-year-old post foster youth on Kauai. Kai works at Hale ‘Opio, which holds the contract for the state of Hawaii for the IMUA KAKOU program that helps this age group. She prepared a handout which I am quoting from. Patricia Duh is 19 and in the following programs. They work, she is enrolled at KCC and has received housing help through IMUA KAKOU.

“IMUA KAKOU”, which means “moving forward together” in Hawaiian, is the name chosen for the voluntary care to age 21 program. Young adults between 18 and 21 are eligible if they meet the following criteria: 1) They turned 18 or older while in foster care (Child Welfare Services) in Hawaii, and emancipated or “aged out” of the system. 2) The participant was placed in legal guardianship or adopted at age 16 or older from foster care (Child Welfare Services) in Hawaii.

Participants of the IMUA KAKOU program are eligible to receive the following benefits:

1) Medical and dental coverage

2) Monthly living assistance payments which currently are $676

3) Resource assistance and support from a case manager.

Young adults who were placed in legal guardianship or adopted at the age of 16 or older in Hawaii may only be eligible to receive the monthly living assistance payments.

There are responsibilities of the IMUA KAKOU participants so they receive and continue to receive the benefits. First, they have to sign a voluntary agreement with the Department of Human Services and Family Court to enter into the program. After that, they need to meet monthly with a case manager for support and to make sure that ONE the following criteria are met. That they are:

w Working on completing a high school diploma, GED or equivalent

w Enrolled full or part time in post secondary (high school) education, usually college, or vocational school

w Participating in an employment program,

w Working at least part-time, 80 hours a month,

w Be identified as medically disabled.

Young adults who participate in IMUA KAKOU are responsible for their own housing. They are not required to live in a foster or group home setting. Case managers often help participants connect with housing resources in the community.

I’d like to call on the greater community here. If you are, or know of someone who might benefit from renting a room or two that meets the standards of the Hawaii DHS, consider doing so. Call Jamie Lee Kai at Hale ‘Opio 245-2873 ex. 8205.

Participants who leave the program because they haven’t been able to fulfill the requirements above or don’t think it’s right for them have the option of re-entering when they are ready and able to participate fully.

The IMUA KAKOU website is imua21.org If you meet the requirements, or think you can, look into it. It will help you take care of your body and mind while you are preparing yourself through some form of education to find your place in the world. In the past we’ve seen featured nightly news stories about young adults who are alone and homeless, but still going to school because they know that that is a big part of the ticket one needs to succeed in life. Now there is help. Take advantage of it. I heard a talk by KCC Chancellor Cox who always researches grants for students that will help pay for college costs.

Jamie Lee Kai of Hale ‘Opio is also the contact for Y.E.S. Hawaii. Y.E.S. stands for Youth Empowerment and Success, and the goal is to “empower young people impacted by foster care.” This is also a new program. It’s administered by Family Programs Hawaii in partnership with the DHS, Hale ‘Opio and EPIC ‘Ohana, Inc. statewide, which serves current and former foster youth ages 14-26 involved in the Child Welfare Service system.

Y.E.S. Hawaii is a youth driven movement. That means that the participants, not the adult leaders, decide what will happen in the meetings, and what the events will be. It provides peer support, outreach services to foster kids on the island, and meaningful events and leadership activities.

Y.E.S.’s goals are to:

w Prepare youth for a successful adulthood

w Give youth a positive forum to build life-long peer relationships with other foster youth

w Build confidence and a feeling of empowerment

w Give youth an opportunity to be mentors and leaders

w Enhance the safety net for foster youth that have limited family support

wHelp youth feel that they are not alone and that there are people who want them to succeed.

There is peer mentoring to facilitate positive peer relationships, including through social media and other electronic communication training. Youth learn leadership and skill-building tools to develop useful life skills. There is an agreed-upon monthly activity. The flyer features a picture of them on horseback at the beach thanks to CJM Country Stables in Koloa.

Last month the participants went to the Kaua’i Athletic Center to learn the benefits of exercise, and then to the Marriott Hotel to learn about healthy food preparation, which they enjoyed eating! Who in the community would like to teach them organic gardening, so they can feed themselves, or sewing perhaps? Call Jamie. The website is www.yeshawaii.org.

Patricia Duh is now 19. She is an Imua Kakou participant and is a member of Y.E.S., and says they really do get close, connect, and help each other. No one understands what it means to be a foster kid like another one, and it feels good to have a community of friends pulling for her and each other.

She also is the current president of the HI H.O.P.E.S. (Hawaii Helping Our People Envision Success) Youth Leadership Board on Kauai. She’s been a member since September 2013. They are also made up of current and former foster youth between the ages of 14-26, and have boards on Oahu, Maui and the Big Island.

Their big three goals are to educate, advocate, and collaborate. They provide the youth voice for the Hawaii Youth Opportunity Initiative and serve as the Youth Advisory Council for DHS-Child Welfare Services.

They advocate for changes in the foster care system and increased opportunities for the young adults transitioning from foster care to adulthood.

They are looking for more board members. So if you were in DHS SWS foster care on or after your 14th birthday, are between the ages of 14-24, live on Kauai and have the time and willingness to attend and participate fully in monthly meetings, training events and initiative work please consider joining. Some get paid.

Patricia loves making a difference in other kids’ lives. Last year their project was to make “Friends that Care” bags. They supplied backpacks filled with school supplies, hygiene products, a pillow, blanket, hairbrush and more, for foster children. They also have a “Better Start Night” for kids interested in college, helping them navigate the available scholarships and financial resources available through the government.

Here’s a list of some foster or adopted kids who did just fine: Eddie Murphy, Sylvester Stallone, President Clinton, Steve Jobs, Nelson Mandela, Maya Angelou, Cher, Scott Hamilton, Babe Ruth, Alonzo Mourning, J.R.R. Tolkien … and the list goes on. Go for it! Be the best self that you can. Use the resources offered you while you can. Stay in high school. It’s free. It won’t be later on, when you’re stuck in that low-paying job because you didn’t take advantage of the programs available.

•••

Hale Opio Kauai convened a support group of adults in our Kauai community to “step into the corner” for our teens, to answer questions and give support to youth and their families on a wide variety of issues. Please email your questions or concerns facing our youth and families today to Annaleah Atkinson at aatkinson@haleopio.org

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