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About Haywood County Government

Katie Chennault
Haywood County LINKS Coordinator 

Providing LINKS for youths in foster care 

Every year, some 65 children enter into Foster Care through the Haywood County Department of Social Services. While adoption occurs in many cases, the likelihood of that diminishes with each birthday and many adolescents remain in foster care until they reach age 21.

Adolescents who stay in the foster care system face enormous challenges, according to Katie Chennault, coordinator of Haywood County LINKS, a DSS program that assists foster care youth ages 13-20 in making a successful transition to independent living.


“Many teenagers in foster care end up not being adopted and aging out of the foster care system,” Chennault said. “They then have to provide for them selves and are often not prepared. Having a personal support network is very important for these youths to help them face these challenges. Many times they cannot name five individuals that are positive supports in their life.”

The LINKS program works by helping youths in foster care develop the kind of support every adult needs – connections to family and friends, businesses, employment opportunities and others. Following are some questions and answers about the LINKS Program:


LINKS is not an acronym, but more of a symbol of what the program works to achieve. What does LINKS mean and what are the goals of the program?

Katie:  LINKS signifies the connections every adult needs in life: to family and friends, to businesses, employment, education, and to resources and opportunities.  The LINKS program is designed to help youths in foster care become connected with the resources they need to help assure that they will have a well connected, self sufficient life.  The seven goals of the LINKS program are that each youth in foster care:

1)      Has safe and stable housing;

2)      Has sufficient income to meet daily needs;

3)      Receives educational/vocational training;

4)      Has connections to a positive personal support network;

5)      Avoids of high risk behaviors;

6)      Postpones parenthood until financially and emotionally capable of parenting; and

7)      Has access to necessary medical care


What are some of the biggest challenges for youths in foster care?

Katie:  Youth in foster care face many challenges and without the right supports they often end up unemployed, homeless, and turn to drugs/alcohol and criminal activity as a result. The biggest challenges for these youths are locating and maintaining employment, finding transportation, and locating affordable housing.  Having a personal support network is very important for these youth to help them with these challenges, and many times they cannot name five individuals that are positive supports in their life. 


How do the services provided through LINKS attempt to meet these challenges?

Katie:  LINKS services focus on providing assistance to youths ages 13 to 20 to prepare them for adulthood.  A plan is made for these youths focusing on the teaching of skills such as career planning, housing and money management, daily living, social skills, and self care.  LINKS also works with youths that have left foster care by hooking them with resources in the community in order to locate employment, housing, or further their education. 


How many young people do you currently have involved in the LINKS program. Is it available to every adolescent between the ages of 13 and 20?

Katie:  There are currently 131 youth enrolled that are eligible for LINKS services in Haywood County.  This is available only to youth who are not yet 21 years of age and who are presently or have been in DSS foster care between the ages of 13 and 21. 


How do you determine eligibility?

Katie:  In addition to being between the ages of 13 and 21, youths in the program must be citizens of the United States and not have financial reserves equal to or more than $10,000. 


How is the LINKS program funded?

Katie: LINKS is federally funded through the John Chafee Foster Care Independence Act.  North Carolina receives a certain amount of money each fiscal year that each county has access to.  These funds are extremely limited and often run out before the end of the fiscal year.  The program is normally not available for every child and youth are not allocated a certain amount.  The goal for the Haywood County LINKS program is to receive 1/3 of its funding from donations in order to provide necessary assistance to all youth that need it. 


How can the funds be used?

Katie:  Housing funds are available to youths who were in foster care on their 18th birthday.  These funds are available to provide assistance with rent, rent deposits, or room and board.


Transitional living funds allow LINKS to provide financial assistance in achieving the goals of the LINKS program.  Transitional funds can help pay for things like utilities, furniture, school trips, involvement in sports and extracurricular activities, work uniforms, transportation, and many other things.  While transitional funds can pay for these things, those funds are not always available to each child and are extremely limited.


There are many things that LINKS funds cannot pay for but are important to youths in foster care.  One example is “senior funds” like a cap and gown, class ring, school pictures, dress for prom, or a yearbook.  Donations allow Haywood County LINKS to be able to provide assistance in areas that LINKS funds do not.


Does the program provide any assistance for youths who want to continue their education after high school?

Katie:  It is also important for viewers to know that there is college funding available for youths that were in foster care.  Educational Training Vouchers are available to youths who were adopted or guardianship was granted after their 16th birthday or who remained in foster care on their 17th birthday.   This can provide financial assistance for tuition costs for students up to the age of 23.  You can find more information on this at www.statevoucher.org.

 

There is also a scholarship called NCReach that will pay for the balance of cost of attendance at any branch of the UNC system or any NC Community College for students who were adopted from NC foster care on or after their 12th birthday or youth that aged out of foster care.  Eligibility for the scholarship continues until the day before the students 26th birthday.  More information can be found online at www.NCReach.org


Is there a role for citizens in the county to work with the young people enrolled in this program? What kinds of support do you need?

Katie:  Many supports from the community are needed for Haywood County LINKS to be successful in preparing for adulthood.  Monetary donations allow LINKS to provide assistance where it is needed, as well as donation of independent living items.  When a young adult moves on their own, they need bedding, towels, dishes, kitchen items, and donating these items to Haywood County LINKS allows us to provide the youth with these. 


Haywood County LINKS also needs business owners who may need assistance and can offer jobs or volunteer work to our youths.  Businesses can also donate free services that could be used as incentives for youth achieving their individual goals.  In the past, for example, free manicures were provided by a salon to a female youth when she improved her grades.


Also, there is a great need for individuals that can provide educational tutoring to youth or provide instruction in an extracurricular activity.  We are currently looking for individuals that can provide lessons on musical instruments, singing lessons, dance lessons, horseback riding, or other services at a low cost.  By getting young adults involved in positive activities, it will decrease their chances of involvement in negative behaviors.

To Volunteer, Make Donations* or Ask Questions, please contact:

Katie Chennault
Haywood County LINKS Coordinator
486 E. Marshall Street
Waynesville, NC 28786
(828) 356-2330
This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it .

* Make check or money order out to Haywood County Department of Social Services.