Governor Jay Nixon has signed two changes to Missouri foster care provisions into law.

Governor Jay Nixon

Governor Jay Nixon

One of those extends from 18 to 21 the age at which a child can re-enter foster care upon a petition by a juvenile officer, the Children’s Division of the Department of Social Services or by the youth him- or herself.

Vince Hillyer is the CEO of Great Circle, an organization that deals with families and children, most of whom are foster children, in areas including mental health, education and advocacy.

He says the passage of that law could be seen as extending to foster children another advantage that children not in foster care have.

“Any 18-year-old who heads out on their own, whether it’s into the workforce or into higher education, they often times just need the stability to be able to fall back and come back to see mom and dad or come back to see the agency that they’ve been associated as a transition time to adulthood.”

Hillyer says this would be especially helpful to teens and young adults who leave foster care, enter the workforce and then find themselves in a bad situation after making a mistake such as breaking a law, or losing a job.

“This would be an opportunity to let them come back in, reassess, get them stabilized, get them another job and hope that they learn from their mistake so instead of spiraling out of control they could get back in and do things the right way.”

See the bills signed today by Governor Nixon, SB 205 and SB 208

The age change was recommended by a 2009 Blue Ribbon Task Force on children aging out of foster care, of which Hillyer was a member. He says he’s glad to see these changes become law, but says there is much more that needs to be done. He hopes more attention will be paid in future legislation to helping foster children at an earlier age.

“Mandatory parenting classes for any person that is about to have a child, and maybe there would be some type of an incentive … to encourage people to do it. I would like to see a lot more early intervention screenings for mental health for kids in … specifically preschool and kindergarten, and just more general advocacy around mental health.”

Another provision that Nixon has made law mandates that children in foster care aged 15 and older will get the chance to visit a college, university, community or military recruiter if they want to. Hillyer says he pushed for that law to make sure foster children know what opportunities they have.

“As accessible to them as it is to anyone in our society. I think they think it’s something that’s only for ‘the good people’ or ‘the rich people’ or ‘the smart people’ and that’s just not the case.”

Both changes to law become effective August 28.

Hillyer is anxious to see what action the Governor takes with another bill that would extend to 45 days Missouri’s so-called “Safe Haven” law, that currently lets a new mother leave a child within five days of birth at a law enforcement or medical facility or fire station without fear of prosecution.

AUDIO: Vince Hillyer interview, 10:09