Stormy Lukasavage wanted to go to college. So he did his homework on what steps he needed to make it happen, from scholarships to tuition waivers.
“It’s always an extra step when you’re in foster care,” the 25-year-old recalled. “There’s so much more paperwork that you have to go through.”
Lukasavage spent part of his childhood in foster care, an experience that continued to shape his life as he entered college.
“My barriers came from the fact that I don’t have a strong family background,” he said. “One of my biggest things was always on the holidays. Just having to be there by myself in an empty building — that kind of totally sucked.”
Lacking a family network is just one way that instability and trauma during childhood can carry into adulthood and complicate the transition.
Thousands of young adults in Kansas who experienced foster care and similar disruptions to home life as children can apply for help paying rent, buying food and covering college tuition and child care through a new pandemic relief program.
One key change to law makes people eligible until they turn 27 for supports that previously ran out at age 21.
Lukasavage thinks that could help more of his peers get their footing and pursue their goals.
“People in foster care weren’t given all the same chances,” he said. “They need that little help up to become prominent members of society. And if we can encourage that growth in a nurturing way, that benefits all of us down the road.”
Congress passed the law late last year to help young adults who have experienced trauma weather the financial storm brought by COVID-19.
Those who were removed from their homes at age 14 or later and placed in custody of state foster care, juvenile corrections or tribal authorities can apply for support through the Kansas Department for Children and Families.
Eligible young adults can get cash assistance (the application for that goes live on July 1), as well as help affording housing, child care and other daily needs.
The maximum needs-based award for college tuition or other training rose from $6,250 a year to $12,000.
Some of these changes expire at the end of September. Others continue a year beyond that. The Department for Children and Families can help young adults know their options.
Even without a pandemic — which cost many young adults their jobs — life can be tough for people who’ve experienced childhood trauma.
The National Foster Youth Institute says children placed in state care switch schools and fall behind academically more often than their peers. Half don’t finish high school and only 3 percent earn bachelor’s degrees, it says.
Research commissioned by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services found adults in their mid-20s who aged out of foster care at age 18 earn significantly less than their peers without that background.
Lukasavage now does advocacy work for improving the foster system and long-term outcomes.
In 2019, he earned his bachelor’s in criminal justice from Washburn University. Now he’s taking the entrance exam for law school.
Editor’s note: This story was reported in memory of KCUR reporter Aviva Okeson-Haberman, a dedicated journalist who began the research for it shortly before her death.
Celia Llopis-Jepsen reports on consumer health for the Kansas News Service. Follow her on Twitter @celia_LJ. The Kansas News Service is a collaboration of Kansas Public Radio, KCUR, KMUW and High Plains Public Radio – focused on health, the social determinants of health and their connection to public policy. Kansas News Service stories and photos may be republished by news media at no cost with proper attribution and a link to ksnewsservice.org.