KNOXVILLE, Tenn. (WATE) — Lawmakers recently passed legislation making extended foster care available to more youth in Tennessee.

This means that more young adults who ‘age out’ of the foster care system, usually at the age of 18, are now eligible for an extension of foster care services until they turn 21.

According to the Tennessee Commission on Children and Youth, nationally 1-in-5 teens who age out of the foster care system at the age of 18 experience homelessness.

Statistics show that youth who are in foster care and stay in extended foster care were twice as likely to have completed their first year of college by 21 and had better odds of being employed.

Lucy Langley entered the foster care system when she was 16 years old.

Now, she is 20 years old and says she would not be where she is today without receiving an extension of foster care services.

Langley is a student at the University of Tennessee studying Plant Sciences. She loves traveling, reading and playing with her two dogs. However, life for Langley was not always easy.

“When I entered care at 16, I had to go back to high school and that was a really scary transition because it turned out I was behind by a lot. So catching up to my peers, and applying for college was a really scary milestone that I hit. I was very fortunate to have the support of Youth Villages,” she said.

Through Youth Villages, LifeSet program, and extended foster care provided by the state, Langley has been able to receive extra support even after she turned 18.

“A lot of the resources that they have are just not as readily available once they become an adult. So [in] our program, we have kids that don’t even know what a checking account is. So we’re able to assist them with that … or haven’t even thought about applying to do a FAFSA or what their next step was,” LifeSet Program Regional Supervisor Ashley Poston said.

Poston added, “With the new law it now goes not only for youth that is in college or in secondary education, or vocational school. It now includes those who choose to work. So now those who have completed their secondary education, they can now quality by working 80 hours a month.”

Before this provision, less than half of youth aging out of foster care could apply for an extension.

Lucy says this new law will allow more young adults like her the ability to receive the help they need to be successful,

“The extension program really helps support you in what you want to do. It provides mentors and people in your life that are consistently in your life telling you you can apply for this job or you know that enrollment was during this time period or you know do you need help getting your driver’s license, permit test, or here are the materials you need for your driver’s tests. So it’s just a lot of little things that you would learn as your growing up, as you’re becoming an adult.”

Through the extension of the foster care program, these young adults can receive education and training vouchers up to $5,000 a year for post-secondary education, an independent living allowance, and access to support teams to help them achieve life goals.

In 2021, Tennessee had over 800 youths aged out of foster care. Of those, less than half were eligible for an extension of foster care services.

This new provision will allow a greater number of youth to be eligible across the state.