LAWRENCE, Kan. (AP) - Lawrence resident Emily Jacobs, now 22, spent her four high school years in the foster care system, leaving when she "aged out" upon graduation.
She moved out on her own, but it's been a tough adjustment.
"Supporting yourself isn't easy," she said.
Jacobs has been working and going to Johnson County Community College on and off for the past few years. She said life's little setbacks have thrown her off course a time or two.
"There just wasn't anyone there for me if my car broke down," she said.
More than 1,000 Kansas teens between the ages of 16 and 18 were in foster care this past year because they were abused or neglected.
Such teens can come with a variety of challenges that could make life outside of state custody difficult.
They often have little work history, poor family support, no credit history and psychological issues resulting from abuse.
That's why former social worker Justine Burton founded the nonprofit organization StopGap Inc. in 2008. After a few years of building support, the group will host its first series of courses for teens in foster care who are getting ready for life on their own.
The five-week course, for those 16 to 18, will focus on topics like job skills, financial planning, education and a variety of other life skills.
The program is needed, said Diana Frederick, executive director of the Douglas County Court Appointed Special Advocates.
"We definitely see this as an area of concern," said Frederick, who works with teens through her program. "That's a very young age to be thrust on your own."
A 2010 study organized by the University of Chicago, the Midwest Evaluation of the Adult Function of Former Foster Youth, shows that teens who age out of foster care do much worse than other young adults in a variety of measures.
For instance, former foster kids had a 7 percent chance of ending up in jail by the time they are 24, compared with fewer than 1 percent of those who weren't placed in foster care. And a quarter of former foster care kids spend some time homeless as they get older.
Burton, who runs the nonprofit on a shoestring budget out of her home, said she'd like to reverse those trends and see former foster care children become stable and productive members of the community. In the coming years, Burton said, StopGap will try to establish a transitional living program in the area that could house former foster care kids.
"There has to be something a little bit better for these kids," she said.