Local Partnership Creates Legal Lifeline for Teenagers in Foster Care

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SRQ DAILY SATURDAY PERSPECTIVES EDITION SATURDAY FEB 9, 2019

Imagine you’re a teenager who has drifted between living out of cars and a dozen different foster care homes. You just want two things: a stable home and your independence. But after aging out of the system, you discover your own mom has stolen your social security number and ruined your credit. Just as you’re beginning your journey into adulthood, you are now struggling to qualify for housing, unable to take out college loans, and can’t even start a cellphone plan—all through no fault of your own. This painful scenario is a reality many foster care children endure alone. In response, Legal Aid of Manasota recently launched a Legal Lifeline for Youth program to represent foster youth ages 14 and up in the 12th Judicial Circuit. There are more than 1,600 children in foster care in Sarasota and Manatee counties, and even more who have aged out. In the foster care system, the only party not entitled to an attorney is the child. The majority are left to juggle complex legal nightmares alone to claim their independence and fight back against fraud. This unique program will utilize two full-time attorneys to represent children at all stages of dependency proceedings; ensure judges have information to make decisions; engage in conflict resolution; and coordinate placement and transition plans which are the least disruptive to the child. Funded by a three-year, $540,000 grant from the Charles & Margery Barancik Foundation, the pilot program will expand partnerships with organizations like Guardian Ad Litem, Harvest House, JFCS, the Sarasota County Bar Association, and others.

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