New Program Makes Road to Adulthood Easier for Youth in Foster Care

By Jesse Colman, Marketing and Communications Coordinator

The road to adulthood is all but paved. With one out of five youth in foster care experiencing homelessness within a year of aging out of the system, there are barriers that education alone can’t solve. One of the ways we can change this statistic is access to reliable transportation.

Through an 18-month contract with the State of Washington, Treehouse’s new Driver’s Assistance program removes transportation barriers for youth in foster care ages 15 to 21 and can change the trajectory of a young person’s life. The program, which recently launched statewide, pays for Washington State IDs, driver’s permits, driver’s education courses, driver’s licenses, enhanced driver’s licenses and the big one, automobile insurance.

Treehouse recently hired licensed insurance agent Patrick Nickell to develop and run the program. He spent time in foster care and was homeless before age 18. Patrick talks about his background in care and the importance of removing transportation barriers in this Q&A.

Why is a lack of transportation a barrier for youth in foster care?
“Our youth need to get to school and work. Even for kids living in urban areas that give them access to public transportation, what’s their success rate going to be if they have to ride three buses and it takes 90 minutes just to get to work? Having a lack of transportation can really edge youth in foster care out of opportunities. We must do everything we can to enable them to be self-sufficient with a sense of agency to be able to provide for themselves. With Treehouse’s Driver’s Assistance program, we’re being proactive instead of reactive.”

Having grown up in foster care yourself, did you experience any issues with transportation?
“I grew up in care in San Diego in the late 1990s. I aged out at 17, got emancipated and was homeless within two weeks. There were very few resources available to me. One transitional living facility had a two-and-a-half-year waiting list and unless you got on that list in your early teens, you had no chance of getting in. Transportation became a huge issue for me. I remember seeing on every application that question: ‘Do you have reliable transportation to work?’ I had to fudge that.”

What would you say to a caregiver who is nervous about their 16-year-old driving?
“If they’re nervous, I would invite them to come talk to me, and I’ll ease their nerves. It’s terrifying, but we all started driving at some point. Driver’s Assistance will be providing both caregivers and youth with a lot of information about how to mitigate risk. We are here to help everyone involved navigate and understand the often confusing world of licensing and insurance. This is information that can really give youth a commanding level of knowledge very early on.”

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About the Author

Jesse Colman is the Marketing and Communications Coordinator at Treehouse. He is passionate about building relationships, storytelling and community development.

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