18 is an age that opens up plenty of opportunities for teenagers...but for teens in foster care, it can be a scary time.
"You go from this feeling of comfort and contentment in a home that nurtures you and an environment that helps you succeed. To nothing." says Leah Gurley, a former foster care child until she was adopted at the age of 17.
New legislation passed by Missouri Governor Jay Nixon will now extend foster service care, especially for those teens looking to continue their education.
Nixon signed two Senate bills - Senate bill 205 and Senate bill 208 - to extend foster care services for teenagers.
The bills raise the maximum age a child may re-enter foster care after the age of 18, and allows for foster children to explore higher education options...which is something many parents hope for their kids.
"They need somewhere to turn to. and being able to come back into care would be a big plus for them. To be able to further their education, or even just to get by. Because they aren't prepared to leave the home at that age often." says Joplin Chamber of Commerce Vice-President, Tonya Sprenkle, who is also a former foster parent. She and her husband adopted Leah Gurley when she was 17 and needing support the most.
"People think the tender age is pre-teen to early teen, but I think the tender age is coming into adulthood and 18 to 21 that's when you're coming into adulthood." says Gurley.
The change was among the recommendations made by a 2009 blue ribbon task force on youth aging out of foster care. The research concluded that youth who remain in adopted care beyond their 18th birthday have better outcomes than youth who are released or voluntarily leave - when it comes to employment, health, education and homelessness.
The bills go into effect on August 28th.