University City Drop-In Center Provides a Safe Haven For Emancipated Foster Care Children
Epworth Children and Family Services in University City provides assistance to those who have aged out of the foster care system.
There are more than 1, 000 children in foster care in St. Louis County.
On average, 65 percent of emancipated foster care children (children who have left the foster care system) have no place to live.
Less than 3 percent go away to college and 51 percent are unemployed. Emancipated females are four times more likely to receive public assistance than the general population.
For more than 145 years, Epworth Children & Family Services in University City has provided services to assist thousands of children in the foster care system.
Their overall goal is to help youth and families find strength, break through obstacles and build brighter futures.
But what is the outcome of an emancipated foster care child and their future?
What happens when a child “ages out” (no longer belongs to the state) of the foster care system?
Studies have shown that young adults in the aging out phase are more likely to go to jail, become homeless and abuse drugs.
Epworth has remained committed to serving foster care children at every stage of their development, even during the “aging out” phase.
In 2007, Epworth was approached by nine local funders that wanted to do something about the alarming statistics regarding aging out youth.
They decided to develop a program called Aging Out to serve as a connection between their emancipated clients and the resources that the clients needed to lead a quality life.
The program currently serves 250 clients between the ages of 16 and 21 who are currently in state custody.
Melissa Whitaker, 18, currently lives in a transitional home in the Delmar Loop area. She has been in and out of foster homes all of her life. Whitaker's experience in the Aging Out program allowed her the opportunity to finish high school, find employment and begin college.
“We project that 70% of our clients will graduate from high school this year, and we already have several students who have went on to pursue higher education,” said Julie Reed, chief development officer at Epworth.
The main objective of Epworth's Aging Out program is to teach its clients life skills to help them successfully function in society.
The program provides everything from cooking lessons, to the proper way to write a check.
Clients each have a “Life Binder” which encompasses all of their important documents such as birth certificates, social security cards, and health records.
Epworth hired mentors who have gone through the foster care system to work directly with the students, making it easier for the Aging Out youth to fully engage in the program.
“Foster care youth are no different than any other child who has hopes, dreams and visions for their future. They want to be presidents and veterinarians, too, but like other young people, sometimes they lack the resources to make their dreams come true,” Reed said.