Access to transportation has long been a struggle for Washington’s youth aging out of foster care.
Thousands of youth age out of foster care in Washington state each year, hundreds without a permanent placement. Around one in five youth transitioning out of foster care will become homeless within a year, partly because of transportation needs, says Patrick Nickell, licensing coordinator for Treehouse, a Seattle-based nonprofit offering support for youth in foster care.
Starting this month, a new statewide program aims to remove barriers to transportation for foster youth. Treehouse’s Driver’s Assistance program, funded by the Department of Social and Health Services Children’s Administration, covers the cost of licensing fees, driver’s training and auto insurance for foster and tribal youth ages 15 to 21.
Getting behind the wheel is a key part of a successful launch into adulthood, particularly for youth exiting foster care, says Nickell, who was previously in foster care and experienced homelessness before he turned 18. Driving means access to education and employment opportunities that can lead to income and housing stability.
“We know that without reliable transportation, opportunities to attend college or trade school and build careers are dramatically limited,” he says.
But the way we get licenses presents lots of barriers for foster youth. Think fees, parental authorization, a written exam, mandatory driver’s training and dozens of hours of driving practice.
Prospective drivers also need proof of identity such as a birth certificate, transportation to and from training and testing locations and funds to cover permitting fees and auto insurance. For youth transitioning out of foster care, the red tape and high costs of can be prohibitive.
Nickell, a licensed insurance agent, hopes the Driver's Assistance program helps foster youth navigate challenges he had to face alone, so more youth can steer toward a prosperous future: “I’m proud to be part of the solution.”