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A group of current and former foster youths from across the state met with lawmakers.

A group of current and former foster youths from across the state met with lawmakers Jan. 28, to lobby for child welfare reform. Their priority is to expand Oregon's Independent Living Program, which prepares foster youths for their transition into adulthood.

While living independently as an adult is a challenge for any young person, youths experiencing foster care are more likely to lack the long-term relationships and resources needed to successfully complete high school, gain employment and live on their own.

According to a data brief released by the Annie E. Casey Foundation, 71 percent of young people in Oregon aged out of foster care without being reunited or connected to a family in 2016, compared to 51 percent of foster youths nationwide.

Many young people transitioning from foster care struggle with instability, are less likely to finish high school, have challenges accessing and maintaining higher education and face disproportionate levels of unemployment and homelessness.

Foster youths identified expanding Independent Living Program services as a legislative priority for 2019 due to the challenges of aging out of foster care without permanency or supportive relationships.

ILP services help youths in foster care make the transition to self-sufficiency as adults by providing training, classes, stipends for living expenses and one-on-one support. Youths learn about topics such as budgeting, applying for a job and looking for their first apartment while building community with other young people preparing for the transition out of care.

The legislative concept was developed by youths at the Oregon Foster Youth Connection Policy Conference, where current and former foster youths from across the state worked together to identify pressing issues within the foster care system and develop concrete solutions.

Out of the 10 policy recommendations formed by foster youths, several others will be considered during the 2019 legislative session. In addition to ILP expansion, OFYC policy recommendations included in Gov. Kate Brown's proposed budget include increasing funding for CASAs, foster parent support and training, a peer-led Healthy Relationships Education Program for foster youths and housing transition support. Foster youths will continue to advocate for expanding ILP services during the 2019 legislative session. If passed, the bill will be OFYC's ninth legislative concept to become law. Oregon Foster Youth Connection youth leaders have successfully passed: assistance obtaining driving privileges (2009), a tuition waiver for foster youths entering community college or state university (2011), a Foster Child Bill of Rights and Foster Child's Ombudsman (2013), access to ongoing extracurricular activities (2015), the ability to open a saving accounts starting at age 12 (2015) and a Foster Children's Sibling Bill of Rights (2017).

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