Legislators Want Foster Children to Receive College Tours

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JEFFERSON CITY - State lawmakers met Wednesday to discuss a bill that would require all children over 15 years of age, who are in the foster care system or the Division of Youth Services Program, to visit a state university, community or technical college in Missouri. If passed, foster children would have to go on a visit before being adopted, leaving foster care, or completing the division's training. The visit must include a campus tour, an entry application process, a financial support application, and career options with academic or technical training. 

Representative Charles Denison, R-Springfield, sponsored the bill, and believes it will help foster children realize their future possibilities.

"We know that we're losing an awful lot of our kids that are in foster homes," Denison said. "We're just losing them through the cracks. They're not being educated as to what is available to them in education."

Representative Roy Holand, R-Springfield, pointed out several circumstances facing foster children, both in and out of shelters. 

"The longer a child is in foster care, the more likely they are to have behavioral problems, mental health problems," Holand said. "They also are more likely to be unemployed, to be on welfare, and to be in jail. About one out of four foster kids is in jail in the first two years after they leave the program."

Officials from the Missouri Department of Social Services said the proposal will have no fiscal impact on its organization. The Children's Division currently covers the costs for some visits through existing funding or school-sponsored events. The division would absorb any additional costs associated with visits.

But representative Jeanette Mott Oxford, D-St. Louis, worried about the consequences the bill would have on the program.

"How much can we absorb in the division without it hurting the quality of the program?" she asked. "I'm worried about whether we can really have a zero fiscal note without stretching things really thin."

Missouri Girls Town Foundation Inc., a residential facility in Kingdom City, already provides some of these visits. It houses girls, ages 8-21, who have been sexually abused, physically abused or severely neglected. 

Program Director Joan Hovland said she supports the bill, but thinks it targets children too young to go on college visits.

"That surprised me that it was 15," she said. "I'm not sure how young the colleges will want them to be, but I guess they have to start somewhere." 

Hovland said she's not sure how the government will be able to enforce this bill if it passes. 

"Anything as wide and big as our foster care system, there's going to be some difficulty in enforcement," she said. 

If passed, the bill would go into effect July 1, 2013.