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Mar 17, 2017

by Jessica DeJohn, Licensing Specialist, Bethany Christian Services of Michigan, Grand Rapids

You may have heard the overwhelming statistics about the number of American teens who age out of foster care without a family—more than 20,000 every year. Kids who have had a chaotic childhood and then are suddenly independent without a support system are at high risk for homelessness, incarceration, trafficking, and having children that end up in foster care. And the cycle continues.

There is another placement option that can provide a safeguard for teens in Michigan who turn 18 while in foster care. Young Adult Voluntary Foster Care (YAVFC) allows teens to continue in foster care up to age 21 while giving them more responsibility as they transition into adulthood. The program is voluntary and provides a turning point for teens who are almost ready to live independently but need a little more supervision and support. It is a contract, and the teen must be 18 to sign it. They can even choose to re-enter foster care if they left the system after turning 18.

Teens enrolled in YAVFC receive a bi-weekly stipend to pay their own rent and utilities. They also have access to Medicaid until age 26. They can also apply for funding that can help with expenses including:

  • Education costs: tutoring, summer school, books, and supplies
  • High school graduation costs: senior pictures, yearbooks, diplomas, even prom
  • College readiness costs: application fees, SAT/ACT testing fees, exam preparation classes
  • Job search costs: computers, interview clothing, uniforms/footwear, special tools, licensing fees
  • Housing/transportation costs: rent deposit, furniture, gas cards, bus passes

To maintain eligibility, teens must be enrolled in school, working or volunteering at least part time, a combination of school and work, or have a medical condition that prevents them from doing either. There is a 30-day grace period if they become ineligible at any time. Teens that are adopted, married, or in the military are not eligible.

The teen could be living in a licensed foster home, licensed residential care, a college residence hall, a relative or friend’s home, or in their own home—anyone they are living with must be approved through the Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS). Each month in the program, the teen meets with a caseworker. And every six months, they review the teen’s goals and plans for the future. They assess housing and money management and work alongside foster parents, residential staff, or volunteer mentors to develop and execute a plan to prepare the teen for even more independence. 

Teens in foster care don’t have a lot of control over their lives, and YAVFC works to gradually give them increasing responsibility as they transition to adulthood. It provides a safety net for kids who may not have family members to teach them the life skills many of us take for granted. It gives them at least one supportive adult who will be there for them and develop a relationship with them.

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