Tamara Vernette says she was pulled from her home and put into foster care at the age of 13 because of sexual abuse. When she turned 18 and graduated out of the foster care system, she wasn’t ready to be on her own.

“It was very difficult, because even though I did have training in certain areas, it was not as much as I needed to feel focused and motivated,” said Vernette.

Community Based Care of Central Florida provides services for foster children, but the agency could only do so much for teens after their 18th birthday, until now. The agency recently secured a $4 million federal grant from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.

“We might have a 17-year-old who has mental health issues who sees a particular provider, and all of a sudden on their 18th birthday, that provider can’t serve them anymore,” said Rebecca Leininger, CBC of Central Florida’s grant coordinator. “A big focus of this program will be to have those two systems integrate, so there’s a continuity of care. We’ll be able to serve this priority population in a way we never have before.”

The money will allow the agency to keep assistance going for teenagers who graduate out of the foster care system.

“A lot of people focus on, ‘Where did this cycle of homelessness begin? Where did this cycle of getting into the criminal justice system begin?'” said Leininger. “Unfortunately, all too often, it happens when we’re kids.”

Despite setbacks, Vernette was able to move into The Faine House in Orlando, which is helping her get back into school and onto a long-term career path.

“Not everybody gets it right the first time,” said Vernette. “It really will give some people a chance to discover themselves, and not wait until it’s too late.”

CBC of Central Florida is partnering with the Seminole County Sheriff’s Office and the University of Central Florida for the new grant program. The agency said the grant money will allow them to provide more mental counseling, transportation assistance and internships for those graduating out of the foster care system.

The $4 million grant allows for the expenditure of $1 million per year for the next four years.

By:  Jeff Allen

News 13