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Program Gives Foster Youths Chance For More Normal Life

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Foster kids can now get assistance for what so many young teens strive for: their driver’s license.

Recent legislation, passed unanimously in the Florida House and Senate, gives foster kids financial assistance for driver’s licenses, insurance and a better chance at a normal life.

The statewide program Keys to Independence, which started in mid-October, is made possible by the “Normalcy Bill” passed by Gov. Rick Scott in 2013.

The bill was designed to reduce the rules and regulations surrounding the activities of children in foster care. Keys to Independence, a three-year pilot program, is one of the first programs coming from this legislation.

The Community Based Care of Central Florida (CBCCFL) organization in Orlando is administering the program.

Jane Soltis, a consultant with the organization, said the program is unique and that many states have not done anything like this before.

“I did research around the country, and while there are some states that have some kids with some of these things, nobody has as comprehensive a program as this,” said Soltis.

When applying to the program, there are certain factors and criteria that the applicants must have in order to be eligible.

Children must meet Department of Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles’ requirements. They must complete a driver’s education course, be between the ages of 15 and 21, and be in a licensed foster care home, according to the program’s website

“The law was written very clearly,” Soltis said. “They can’t be living with a relative; They can’t have been adopted; They can’t be living in their own apartment; They have to be in licensed, out-of-home care.”

Since the program is only a pilot-program, Soltis said the organization is making a report to see what is working with the program and what will need changing.

If a child misses the age limit for the program, they are ineligible.  But Soltis said they hope to fix this.

The organization will collect data, Soltis said, and look into children who were excluded. Once the three-year program ends, CBCCFL can tweak rules on eligibility.

Foster care programs in areas like Alachua and Marion counties hope to mimic this sort of program to help foster children.

Jenn Petion, the director of community and government relations for the Partnership for Strong Families in Alachua County, said that although the funds are limited, it could make a huge difference.

“We’re just fortunate in that we don’t have a large amount of kids in foster care,” Petion said. “We have a smaller population than maybe other parts of the state, but I think it’s a great program, and statewide it’s going to make a huge impact.”

Nicole Pulcini Mason, director of Community Affairs for Kids Central Inc. in Marion County, said it’s a great idea for children under the care of community-based care organizations.

“Through no fault of their own, these children have ended up in foster care and deserve to have a normal life,” Mason said. “This pilot program is another step in the right direction.”

About Ana Rojo

Ana is a reporter for WUFT News and can be contacted by calling 352-392-6397 or emailing news@wuft.org.

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