Missouri social services workers develop plan to help more youth aging out of foster care system

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(Missourinet)– Shasta Miller says a former foster child put it best: a Missouri Department of Social Services unit has helped more in four months than anyone else has in 17 years.

“I want to see more youth get the help that I received because they deserve it,’” the child said.

That is exactly what the Southeast Royals Unit wants to do. Miller, along with Rene’ Brinkman, Bobbie Thomas and Nicole Robinson, lead the unit helping older youth prepare for adult life.

“We have a real problem here in Missouri,” says Miller. “Our older youth are leaving our foster care system to higher rates of incarceration, lack of education, unemployment and homelessness.”

They launched the unit about six months ago in southeast Missouri. Robinson says their work has led to most of their foster kids getting a driver’s permit or license, two-thirds have opened a bank account, 63% have a job and 68% of eligible youth have enrolled in college courses.

Now, they want to take the effort statewide. They pitched the idea last month during a state government challenge that brings together workers within Missouri’s 16 executive departments – and they won.

The “Show Me Challenge” – styled after the hit TV show “Shark Tank” – is designed to better serve citizens, cut out bureaucracy, and save the state time and money. The Missouri Office of Administration says the event, which launched in January 2019, is put on twice a year. To date, more than 500 team members have pitched ideas to improve Missouri’s state government processes.

Thomas says an expansion could save Missouri in jail costs and homelessness prevention efforts.

“If we invest in our youth now, we could save up to $2 million each year,” she says. “With increased employment rates we project the state could earn $21,000 in tax revenue each year. Case managers will also benefit from additional Royals units because we would take 300 high-risk youth off of the caseloads,” says Thomas.

Their pitch would add five more units around the state and use existing staff and resources.

“Four-hundred and seven Missouri youth have aged out of foster care since October of 2019,” says Brinkman. “The current Royals unit would only have been able to serve about 1% of that population. However, if we had six Royals units across the state, we could have served 74% of those youth.”

Their winning idea has landed them $500 each, along with senior support and mentorship to translate their proposal into results.

Members from the Missouri Department of Natural Resources and Office of Administration won second place for their proposal using a statewide campground recycling program to increase convenience of recycling for campers, reducing waste going to landfills.

Third place went to workers from Missouri State Parks, the Department of Natural Resources, and the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education. They offered a plan creating a centralized website with virtual education materials to better serve educators unable to take their students to visit Missouri State Parks and Historic Sites for in-person learning.

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