KANSAS CITY, Mo. — A federal law prohibits children in foster care from 'aging out' amid the COVID-19 pandemic But Missouri isn't following it -- which almost put a young man who can't take care of himself out on the streets.
"He can answer yes and no questions, but those are the only words he can speak," Lori Ross, president and CEO of FosterAdopt Connect, said. "Otherwise, he's nonverbal."
Ross advocates for children in foster care, including Leo, who has severe autism. Though he turned 21 on Sunday, Leo functions as a child in grade-school.
"He is capable of walking, but he's not capable of necessarily knowing what's dangerous and what's not," Ross said. "He requires supervision for feeding for eating."
He's lived in a group home in Jackson County for the past four years. Traditionally, at this point, he would transition to receive care as an adult.
"But that is complicated by the fact that he was brought here illegally by his mother as a child," Ross said, "and then he was removed from her care due to abuse or neglect and brought into foster care."
Going into his birthday weekend, a judge ruled Friday that Leo must continue to receive his current care.
Federal law during the COVID-19 pandemic stops foster kids from aging out. On Thursday, Rep. Robert Sauls introduced legislation to make sure Missouri adheres to it.
In a statement the governor's office told 41 Action News:
“DSS, the Children’s Division, and DMH work tirelessly to ensure youth who have an on-going need for services but are aging out of the foster system, continue to receive services. These state agencies partner with local providers and often use the court system to ensure the aforementioned youth experience a seamless transition. State and federal statutes prohibit this office from discussing specific cases, and we will not facilitate dissemination of information that may have been gained in violation of the law. At the end of the day, it is the stated purpose of the juvenile code to serve the best interests of the child (Section 211.011), and this administration believes that to be true when it comes to both the care of the youth and the privacy rights of the youth.”
"He's going to remain in foster care until at least the end of September, what remains to be seen is what are the things that are going to cause that situation not to become a crisis again," Ross said.
The ACLU has also filed an injunction to protect Leo's rights and care in the future.
"My hope is that Leo notices nothing that his life remains stable and secure and unchanged and that he doesn't have any idea at any point ever, that any of this went on. I'd like to see that happen for him," Ross said.
Leo has been granted a special immigration status after congressman Cleaver intervened on his behalf, this helps the state pay for the services Leo requires.