St. Louis program helps foster children aging out of the system

Thursday, August 9, 2007
Former foster child Annica Trotter worked with current foster children in an aging out program in University City, Mo. Trotter, now 21, is in college studying nursing, but she's also serving as a peer adviser for a new St. Louis-based program to ease the transition from foster care to independence. (Jeff Roberson ~ Associated Press)

ST. LOUIS -- Annica Trotter knows firsthand the challenges foster children face as they become adults: She was already living on her own at age 18, three years after turning herself over to the state, entering the foster care system as a pregnant 15-year-old.

Trotter is now part of a St. Louis-based program that could serve as a national model to ease the transition from foster care to independence. The St. Louis Aging Out Initiative focuses on young people in state custody who don't have the resources needed to make a smooth transition to life on their own once they "age out," or are legally emancipated from the foster care system.

Without the program, it's estimated about half of the foster children in the St. Louis region who "age out" then experience homelessness at some point. Less than half have a high school diploma or its equivalent, and about 80 percent of young women who "age out" become pregnant before 21, organizers said.

The program aims to help foster children before they're on their own.

"A lot of communities nationally are struggling with this. How do we make sure these youth who live in so many different families or at so many different addresses are healthy, productive adults?" said Curtis Holloman, a deputy director for the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation's Local Initiative Funding Partners program.

The St. Louis program recently received a three-year, $500,000 matching grant from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, a New Jersey-based health care philanthropic organization, in addition to $600,000 already committed by area organizations. If successful, Holloman sees it as a potential national model.

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