Bill gives abused neglected youth more opportunities
February 23, 2012
Bill gives abused and neglected youth in state custody more opportunities to succeed
The Senate Health and Welfare Committee approved legislation this week to help ensure that abused and neglected youth in state custody get the chance they deserve to become healthy and productive adults. Senate Bill 2199, sponsored by Senator Doug Overbey (R-Maryville), would bridge the gap for those in foster care from the teenage years to adulthood by assuring the Transitioning Youth Act continues to remain in effect for years to come. This critical program, which was set to expire, provides assistance to youth in foster care between the ages of 18-21 - after they age out of the foster care system.
"Young people who age out of foster care face significant challenges transitioning to adulthood on their own," said Senator Overbey. "Most importantly, this bill would give youth in foster care a better opportunity to live successful and fulfilling lives by continuing this program until age 21. In addition, it has a positive secondary effect on our bottom line in terms of societal costs, including the impact it has on early pregnancy, earnings potential and incarceration costs."
The vote to approve the proposal came after lawmakers heard compelling testimony from country music star Jimmy Wayne about his experience in the foster care system and his efforts to help these often forgotten youth. Radio talk show host Michael Reagan, adopted son of the late President Ronald Reagan and Jane Wyman, also expressed his support of the bill in a letter asking Tennessee lawmakers to approve the legislation.
Wayne told Committee members that he was homeless at age 13 after being abandoned by his mother. After moving in and out of the foster care system, he became homeless again at age 16 until he was taken into the home of an elderly couple where he lived for the next six years. Wayne said that couple's support allowed him to go back to high school, graduate from college and pursue his dream of being in the music industry.
In 2009, Wayne remembered a promise he made as a teenager to "give back" if he became successful. Since that time he has worked to raise awareness about teenage foster children and the challenges they face, including founding the "Meet Me Halfway" project. In 2010, Wayne walked 1,660 miles from Nashville to Phoenix to advocate on behalf of foster youth who are in danger of becoming homeless upon being released from state custody at age 18 without vital resources.
Similarly, Reagan wrote lawmakers saying, "The majority of children who age out of foster care are not equipped to live as productive adults." He said statistics show that these youth are less likely to graduate from high school, attend college, and become employed or to earn a living wage. They are also more likely to experience violence, homelessness, substance abuse, unwanted pregnancies and mental illness. "They deserve the chance to be properly prepared for adulthood," he said.
The bill is part of Governor Bill Haslam's legislative package, and funds to continue the program are included in the proposed 2012-2013 budget.
The above article is from Senate Majority Leader Mark Norris' website.