A recent national report from the Annie E. Casey Foundation found that Michigan is behind the rest of the country in helping young people move out of the foster care system and onto a successful adult life. In West Virginia, 70 percent of youth transitioning out of foster care got education financial assistance. The national average was 23 percent. Here in Michigan? It was just one percent.
Matt Gillard is the president and CEO of the advocacy group Michigan's Children, which works to improve Michigan's child welfare system. Gillard says that the problem starts way before kids transition out of the system. He says there isn't enough support when kids are still in foster care, either.
"What's important for people to know is, it's not like they figured it out in other states, and we just don't have the answer. We know what needs to be done and what can be done. It's just a matter of our elected officials prioritizing it, and recognizing that these children are the responsibility of the citizens of the state of Michigan and the government of the state of Michigan," Gillard said.
Gillard said there are initiatives helping young people aging out of foster care in Michigan, but they don’t have the funding they need. He pointed to university-led supports for kids who have been in the foster care system, as well as state efforts like the Michigan Youth Opportunities Initiative (MYOI).
Arielle Duncan is an 18 year old freshman at Wayne State University who has been helped by the MYOI. Her story is an example of what can happen when the guidance and resources are there to support foster kids aging out of the system.
Her time in MYOI helped teach Duncan the skills she’d need as an adult, like balancing a checkbook and doing her laundry. And it helped connect her with educational assistance programs and scholarships specifically targeted toward youth who have spent time in foster care. After graduating high school, Duncan was accepted to Wayne State through a bridge program. That meant she was able to raise her GPA and receive a scholarship to pay for a semester of housing.
"There are scholarships and there is money to be given to these kids that age out, but I think the biggest thing is they need that help. They need that person behind them guiding them, kind of giving them a little bit of help in the beginning to kind of push them and say, 'hey you can do this, you can accomplish this,'" said Duncan.
Listen above to hear full interviews with both Matt Gillard and Arielle Duncan.