Due to economic issues and the nation’s opioid crisis, North Carolina has its highest rate of foster care children since 2008.
Almost 12,000 children under age 18 in North Carolina are a part of the state’s foster care system. To be a part of the system, a child, aged 1 day to 18 years, must be certified by a Juvenile Court Judge as being “abandoned, abused or neglected” and be part of a family that is 150 percent below the state’s poverty level.
In North Carolina, approximately 650 youth exit foster care annually, resulting in a population of 2,600 young people who may need assistance at any given time.
Until 2010, foster care funding in the United States ended when a child reached age 18.
Recently, North Carolina was the 23rd state in the nation to become a part of the federal plan for offering foster care to youth “aging out” of foster care at age 18 but who do not have a place to live or a biological or foster family to be a part of. Approximately 650 youth a year in North Carolina at age 18 are now eligible. These youth may stay in care, if they are in school or employed, until the age of 21. By June of 2018, approximately 1,000 North Carolina youth between the ages of 18 and 21 have entered themselves into this new foster care program.
Charlotte-based Elon Homes of North Carolina began as an orphanage in 1907 as Elon Homes for Children in Elon, N.C. Boys Town of North Carolina, which was founded in Charlotte in 1970, merged with Elon Homes for Children in 1985 and soon added services for girls. The agency’s campus was relocated to Charlotte at that time.
In 2017, Elon Homes launched an innovative program to help young men who are ages 18-21 and have lived in foster care at some point in their lives. Elon Homes’ Foster Care Village is located on the campus of Johnson C. Smith University and is the first residential facility for young men in the state and among the first in the U.S.
Elon Homes’ Foster Care Village operates in partnership with Johnson C. Smith University’s social work program and currently houses 15 male residents. Next month, as part of the program’s second phase, a women’s dormitory will open.
During #GivingTuesdayCLT, Elon Homes raised money for furniture, bedding and amenities for these new dorms for young women. Five women will move in next month.
Studies have shown that the outcomes for young adults who remain in foster care to age 21 and receive support as they transition from unstable family lives to adulthood are promising. These young people fared far better than those who had to leave care at age 18.
“Our first male resident turned 21 this month and transitioned out of the program,” said Amanda Hollingsworth, Director of Development for Elon Homes. “He has a great job, has his own apartment and we’re very proud of him.”
Being on campus at Johnson C. Smith University allows these Elon Homes residents to feel part of a community and they get a taste of their next phase in life. They enjoy community meals, fellowship and exposure to college life.
“It takes a village,” Hollingsworth said.