SEBRING - As a foster mother who took children into her home over the past few years, Theresa Mixon saw situations where ending foster care when a teenager reaches 18 was not the best idea.
One boy, she recalled, had to leave her home because he became 18 and that was the limit under which he could stay in the system.
"He was pulled out of my home and he didn't finish high school, because he couldn't focus (while living independently) and finish his education," Mixon recalled.
But that will also change as of Jan. 1. The law will allow teenagers to stay in the foster care system until they reach the age of 21.
Eva Horner, chief operations officer of Heartland for Children, the organization that deals with the foster system, said about 14 children in the system in this area will turn 18 soon.
Currently, she said, as they turn 18 they are trained on how to live on their own.
After they turn 18, many of them look forward to independence and living on their own, she said. "Most of the youth are wanting to change their living arrangement."
They receive a check to help them with their rent and utilities, Horner said. But some run into trouble because they may not be fully prepared to live independently, Horner said.
Regardless of the preparation they get, she said, "some struggle with getting a check over $1,000 and spending it responsibly."
Some of the foster children under the old system did stay with their foster parents and paid room and board because the foster parents no longer received money to cover the expenses of having the teenager living with them, Horner said.
But, she said, under the new system if the teenager remains within the foster system, the foster parents will receive the check the teenager would have received if he/she elected to leave the system.
Horner said she believes that most foster parents will be open to continuing to having the teenagers live in their home past the age of 18.
Such is the case for Mixon, who said she favors the change and believes it will work. She said she currently has one foster child approaching 18 who will stay.
Mixon said she wanted to become a foster parent because her mother always opened up her home for children who were having problems.
Under the law, those teenagers remaining in the system will continue under court supervision and they must be either completing their high school education, enrolled in a college or vocational program or have a full time job, according to the Florida Department of Children and Families web site.
The only exception would be if the youth had a disability that would prevent him/her from participating in an educational program or working.