Yesterday, DYFS announced $1.7 million in funding for programs to increase housing for ages 18 to 21 under a court mandate to improve services for this often neglected population.
"Too many children are leaving foster care without basic life skills and the ability to live on their own," acting Gov. Richard J. Codey said in a statement. "With more beds and support services now available, more foster children will now have a solid foundation to build upon as they transition to adulthood."
The $1.7 million will pay for 43 beds: Three transitional-housing programs in central and northern New Jersey will add 17 beds; the Center for Family Services will build Camden DREAMS, a 16-bed permanent residence in Camden; and Robins' Nest will build Life Link, a 10-bed permanent residence in Glassboro.
Both permanent-housing programs will provide links to education, employment and other support. Some youths already receive these services but flounder once they move into their own apartment.
"Without the housing component, it's very tough for these kids," said Angela Estes, executive director and chief executive officer of Robins' Nest. "I cannot imagine anyone handing their child all their belongings on their 18th birthday to fend for themself with no family support, employment or housing."
The housing expansion was one of the mandates in the plan to overhaul the state's child-welfare system. In the next five years, the state is required to develop 200 beds in transitional housing. The state was required to develop at least 40 this fiscal year, and $2.4 million will be made available in May for another 40.
The state is also increasing funding to help pay rent, buy furniture, and provide other services that young adults need to become independent.
Rastelli said he believed the funding was a good start but fell short of the need.
"The State of New Jersey and other places aren't doing enough," he said. "They need more housing and education programs for these kids. Probably 85 percent of the kids I've met through programs and in homes are homeless or locked up."
Rastelli has struggled to live on his own. He learned to live on a budget while in foster care and at 17 had saved enough money working as a pastry chef to buy a used car. A federal program for foster children aging out helped him buy furniture.
But Rastelli dropped out of Salem Community College because he could not afford tuition, car payments and rent even though working full time.
"I felt a little bit lost," he said. "I didn't have anybody to call on. I had to depend on myself."
Rastelli's social worker referred him to Robins' Nest, which assisted with some of his expenses, including a scholarship that paid his rent for six months. But Rastelli's scholarship ends in July, and he is worried about how he will juggle his bills. He works 35 hours a week at Wawa and still has a year left in the business management program at Salem Community College.
"I thank whoever does that scholarship, but I'm still going to be in the same boat," said Rastelli, who wants to own a restaurant one day. "I just want to get on my feet and continue going to college. Then I would like to give back to the community 10 times what they gave me."
Contact staff writer Kera Ritter at 856-779-3829 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
These agencies will share $1.7 million from the New Jersey Division of Youth and Family Services to house young adults aging out of foster care.
Center for Family Services in Camden County received $617,388 to create 16 slots. The organization also received $1.4 million in capital funding from the state Department of Community Affairs and the state Housing and Mortgage Finance Agency.
Robins' Nest in Gloucester County received $440,000 to create 10 beds. The organization also received $939,498 in capital funding from the Department of Community Affairs and the Housing and Mortgage Finance Agency.
Catholic Charities' Beacon House in Monmouth County received $205,462 to create seven slots.
Somerset Home for Temporarily Displaced Children in Somerset County received $340,764 to create five slots.
Community Access Unlimited in Union County received $140,416 to create five slots.