WVU Center for Excellence in Disabilities offers help for families, individuals with disabilities in the foster care system

Wednesday, May 24, 2023

Each May, National Foster Care Month acknowledges those who help the more than 391,000 youth in foster care find permanent homes and connections. The intersection of people with disabilities and the foster care system presents many unique challenges. Studies estimate that about one-third of foster youth have a chronic health condition. Youth with disabilities who age out of the foster care system are at an increased risk for homelessness. Unsheltered youth also see higher rates of substance use and human trafficking while having less access to health care.

Two different programs at the WVU Center for Excellence in Disabilities (CED) are aimed at youth who transition out of foster care, which can be a vulnerable and overwhelming time for those with little to no outside support. Mentoring with Oversight for Developing Independence with Foster Youth (MODIFY) provides education, training, financial support, and other needed transitioning services for foster youth ages 18-26. This includes educational and training vouchers for those who attend a post-secondary educational program.

“Some of the foster youth transitioning from care have a diagnosed disability and also had an Individualized Educational Plan in high school,” said MODIFY program manager Michelle Fleece. “Many of these youth do not realize that they can also receive supportive services in college to help make the transition and their college education more successful. Our MODIFY specialists help to navigate and guide these youth to resources that assist them in their education journey.”

The Regional Transition Navigator Services (RTNS) program is designed to provide training and resources to youth and young adults ages 14-25 who are impacted by serious emotional disturbance, mental illness, and/or substance use disorder. Emphasis is placed on assisting those who are experiencing homelessness, at risk for human trafficking, or aging out of foster care or juvenile detention. RTNS staff work to develop a network of supports to improve health outcomes for participants.

The Specialized Family Care (SFC) program helps link children and adults who have intellectual or development disabilities with families willing to open their homes and hearts to them. “We can change lives by opening a Specialized Family Care home for a child or an adult with intellectual or developmental disabilities,” said SFC program manager Mary Gibbs. “Providers experience growth and witness individuals flourish not only as a person with a disability, but as an individual who needed a loving and nurturing environment to achieve their possibilities.”

The West Virginia Assistive Technology System (WVATS) can help make transitions easier for youth and adults with disabilities as they move into a foster placement, and can also help adults with disabilities be more self-sufficient while raising children. The WVATS Loan Library and Exchange System allows people with disabilities to borrow equipment, tools, books and more free for 30 days at a time. Device demonstrations are also available by appointment.

A new podcast series called “Adjusting the Sails” has recently hit the ground running with monthly episodes centered on the challenges that face children with disabilities, their families and caregivers. Hosted by the Paths for Parents and Family to Family programs at the CED, the podcast will have special episodes debuting weekly throughout May that are focused on the experiences of families who foster children with disabilities.

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Learn more about how to make referrals to these programs.