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San Diego nonprofit supports former foster youth with mental health services

Posted at 5:59 PM, Feb 09, 2023
and last updated 2023-02-09 21:12:23-05

SAN DIEGO (KGTV) — San Diego nonprofit Just in Time for Foster Youth (JIT) is reaching out to vulnerable young adults who recently aged out of the foster care system. The initiative was started following a new report that found half of all homeless people are former foster children.

"I entered the foster care system permanently when I was 12 years old," said Samantha Harmer.

Harmer moved from Utah to San Diego before she aged out of the foster care system at 18.

"A period of my life where I was struggling a lot. Since I was from Utah, I wasn't accepted into a lot of the programs that were for foster youth in California," said Harmer. "Then I was referred to Just in Time by a case worker I had. It definitely changed my life."

Harmer was accepted to the University of California San Diego that year. JIT paid for Harmer's school supplies and paired her with a mentor.

"I triple-majored in political science, sociology and communications," said Harmer. "So having that consistent person in my life to lean on for guidance was incredible."

That peace of mind helped her graduate and get a full-time job at the nonprofit. Unfortunately, data shows success stories like Harmer's are rare.

The National Foster Youth institute says one out of every five former foster kids become homeless immediately after leaving the foster care system. It's a problem complicated by increased risks for mental illness and substance abuse.

"When you come out of foster care, you don't have a support system," said Don Wells, CEO of Just in Time for Foster Youth. "And no one does well without a support system."

The nonprofit is trying to break that cycle by adding a new mental health team.

"We hired a person who's a clinical psychologist as a supervisor," said Wells. "And we formed a partnership with Alliant International University. They send us graduate students, so we're able to offer therapy on-site at no cost to our participants."

It's a crucial step to protect at-risk youth.

"That's because it's all about connections," said Wells.

Just in Time for Foster Youth also helps aged-out foster youth with housing, job readiness and more. If you want to learn more, you can visit their website.