state logoHONOLULU – On July 1, the Hawai‘i Department of Human Services (DHS) will launch Imua Kākou, its new young adult voluntary foster care program designed to help young adults transition to adulthood, independence and self-sufficiency.

Signed one year ago by Governor Neil Abercrombie, Act 252 (Senate Bill 1340 – Relating to Foster Care) allows former foster youth to voluntary extend foster care to age 21.

“We are sending a clear message to former foster youth that we won’t abandon them simply because they turn 18,” said Governor Abercrombie, who strongly supported the measure.  “We can effectively help them transition to capable, successful adults by offering programs and opportunities that will provide stability and support.”

This new program allows young adults who turn 18 years old in foster care, or those youth who were adopted or placed in a guardianship after age 16, to participate in the voluntary foster care program until age 21.  Imua Kākou provides extended foster board payments, case management support, housing opportunities, training in independent living, assistance in securing jobs or job training, and support to continue education.  To participate, the young adult must be:

  1.         completing high school or a program equivalent;
  2.         enrolled in post-secondary or vocational education;
  3.         participating in a program to promote employment;
  4.         employed for at least 80 hours per month; or
  5.         incapable of doing any of the above activities due to a medical condition.

Hawai‘i was also the first state in the nation to extend Medicaid coverage to former foster youth until age 26.

“We are thrilled to be launching Imua Kākou,” said DHS Director Pat McManaman. “The ground work for the program was truly a collaborative effort between the DHS, foster youth, community organizations, the Judiciary, and the Legislature.  There has been a need for these services for a long time, and we believe Imua Kākou will provide opportunities for vulnerable young adults and transform lives in the process.”

Recent studies show that foster youth who exit care without any support are at a high risk of homelessness, unemployment, substance abuse and incarceration.  Imua Kākou provides these young adults with an opportunity to succeed through education and supportive employment.

Patricia Duh of Kaua‘i will be one of the first young adults to sign up for Imua Kākou. Now 19 years old and a new mother, she said being on her own was scary.  Having just completed her freshman year at Kaua‘i Community College, she said she wants to become a social worker and has been able to make these plans knowing that she has the support of Imua Kākou.

Noy Worachit, one of many foster youth and adults who collaborated in the development of the program, said Imua Kākou “is about helping to create goals and access resources.  ” While she had a supportive foster family, “not everyone has a good experience transitioning out of foster care.  Imua Kākou, ‘moving forward,’ offers youth new opportunities and a brighter future.”

To view an Imua Kākou public service announcement produced by foster youth, visit http://www.epicohana.org/homepage.aspx. To sign up for Imua Kākou visit www.Imua21.org or call 1-888-544-IMUA (4682).

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