Tammy McGuire has fostered children in Jacksonville for the last 8 years. McGuire told Channel 4 Monday night that she looks forward to the changes that will come with Senate Bill 1036 and House Bill 215.
McGuire thinks the changes will give children in her home a better chance at a bright future. The bill will make a dramatic shift in the culture of foster care in Florida. After the Senate and the House approved the measures known as the "Let Kids be Kids," and the "Independent Living" bill, the measures headed to Gov. Rick Scott's desk for a signature.
"This legislative session is probably the most significant one in the history of Florida as it relates to foster care," said Department of Children and Family Services, Secretary David Wilkins. "If a child turns 18 and they do not have their high school degree, and are not ready to go in for advanced education, they can stay in foster care up to 21."
About a thousand kids "age out" of the system every year, often without a support system or mentor to help guide them through their next chapter in life. These bills would allow those kids to pursue college or vocational school and give them a $14,000 stipend to use.
For longtime forest parents like Tammy McGuire, she told Channel 4, the extra time will give the children in her care a better chance at success down the road.
"They're not ready mentally or emotionally, they don't have a family unit to fall back on when they get out, so to have them under my home just a little bit longer to teach them the ins and outs of the real world, that's the quality we need," said McGuire.
In the last 8 years McGuire has had 49 children pass thru her home and she admits some have slipped through the cracks.
"Less than half are graduating high school on time, less than 25 percent were involved in extra-curricular activities, teen pregnancies were 300 percent higher for our children in foster care," said Wilkins.
Wilkins said the years of liability and safety concerns have made the problem grow , with background checks and finger printing required for a foster child to go on any school field trip, sporting event, or sleepover; but this legislation strips away those hurdles.
"This law just opens up those opportunities, to now allow those kids those opportunities they didn't have before," said Wilkins.
The idea of having those opportunities now means McGuire can turn out happier, healthier, and more self sufficient young adults.
"It would be such a nice change for us as a family, not to just call them out and say that they're different," said McGuire.