By Megan E. Davis
While a common rite of passage for most 16-year-olds, the opportunity to get a driver’s license remains out of reach for the majority of young people in foster care.
Less than 3 percent of 18-year-old foster youth aging out of Florida’s system have a driver’s license, according to Alan Abramowitz, executive director of the Florida Guardian ad Litem Program.
When a teenager gets a driver’s license, insurance rates go up for the parent or guardian adding the young person to his or her policy. In the case of foster youth, most caregivers are unwilling or unable to take on the extra expense, said Victoria Jackson, membership chair of Florida Youth SHINE’s Tallahassee chapter.
Made up of current and former foster youth, Florida Youth SHINE empowers members to become leaders and advocates in their communities.
“This is something many former foster youth continue to struggle with into their 20s,” Jackson said. “We’re not talking about wanting a driver’s license to feel free. We’re talking about needing a driver’s license to get a job and be self-sufficient in society.”
Legislation aimed at easing the financial burden faced by caregivers when foster youth obtain driver’s licenses is making its way through the Florida Senate.
Members of the Committee on Children, Families and Elder Affairs last month voted unanimously in favor of CS/SB 744, the Keys to Independence Act, introduced by Sen. Nancy Detert, R-Venice.
The bill proposes appropriating $800,000 to the Florida Department of Children and Families to create a statewide pilot program that would cover expenses for drivers’ education, becoming licensed, and insurance premium increases for caregivers of youth ages 15-18 seeking driver’s licenses.
“Our current situation is that our young people in foster care are in a situation where they often face barriers to participate in everyday life experiences common to others in their age group,” Detert said during the committee meeting. “It certainly impedes them getting a job and becoming a normal citizen. This is just another way to help foster kids when they leave our system become productive citizens.”
The bill has three more committee stops, including committees on Transportation, Banking and Insurance, and Appropriations.
Committee on Children, Families and Elder Affairs Chair Sen. Eleanor Sobel, D-Hollywood, offered praise for the bill.
“These kids have had a tough life,” she said. “They didn’t ask for it, but they got it. I hope we can find funding to help these kids have happy and productive lives like the rest of kids in society.”