The COVID-19 pandemic has been an especially stressful time for children in foster care or living in group homes.
In Ohio, hundreds of those children are nearing their time to age out of the foster care system. Many of them are left to wonder where they’ll end up amid the uncertainty of a global health crisis.
“The kids in foster care really don’t have a lot of support,” Tim Kehres said.
Kehres mentors dozens of teens through the Torchlight Youth Mentoring Alliance. During the pandemic, mentors have kept in contact with teenagers in foster care using Zoom and FaceTime.
“I mean think about it, in this quarantine most of these kids that we’re working with are stuck in group homes,” Kehres said. “They’re not getting out at all.”
In late April, Gov. Mike DeWine vowed to keep more than 200 children, who would otherwise be aging out of foster care, enrolled in the system.
The state vowed to financially support them until the pandemic passes.
This option is also available for young adults enrolled in the state’s “Bridges” incentive, Ohio's foster care to age 21 program, to help them maintain their housing, jobs, and education.
“Basically if you remove these kids from the group homes and the foster care places they’re at, you would basically be making these kids homeless,” Kehres said. “There would be no place for them to go.”
One Northeast Ohio woman, who asked to remain anonymous, recalled feelings of hopelessness and confusion as she aged out of the foster care system at 18 years old.
“There’s no rule book to it and there’s a lot of stuff you have to figure out by yourself,” she said, “I didn’t know how to cook. I didn’t know much about grocery shopping. About paying bills. Budgeting. A lot of things I had to figure out by myself.”
She said while she appreciates DeWine’s temporary extension of services, she fears the children aging out of the foster care system in the near future will still be left scrambling to find new employment, school and living arrangements.
“Because the world effects for the economy because of the virus and the pandemic are still going to be going on for the next six months to a year of our lives,” she said.
Kehres said it’s a crucial time for mentor volunteers, as well as those considering becoming foster parents.