Many stepping up to help man with severe autism, aging out of foster care system

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KANSAS CITY, Mo — Local politicians and child advocates are scrambling to help a young man with special needs who is aging out of the foster care system.

“He’s just not gonna make it and I find that very, very sad,” Missouri Rep. Robert Sauls said.

Sauls is talking about a person we are calling “Leo” for privacy reasons. Sauls said Leo came to the U.S. from Mexico as a child with his mother. Social services removed him from her care due to abuse and neglect and placed him in foster care. Leo turns 21 soon and will age out of the foster care system.

“He could literally end up at the City Union Mission,” Sauls said.

Ending up in a homeless shelter could be dangerous for Leo, Lori Ross, president and CEO of Foster Adopt Connect, believes.

“This young man has into a cognitive impairment, a significant cognitive impairment, probably functioning on a infant toddler level,” Ross said.

Leo requires constant supervision and many worry what will happen if he’s left on his own.

“It is a death sentence for him,” Ross said. “That’s exactly the issue. That’s why this is so tremendously tragic.”

In December, the federal government put a pandemic moratorium on kicking kids out of the system, regardless of age. Ross said Missouri is not honoring that. To add to his issues, Leo is not a citizen.

“If he was an American kid, in this circumstance, there would be no question that he would be picked up for services by the Department of Mental Health as soon as he turned 21,” Ross said.

Immigration attorney Kathleen Irish has gotten Leo “special immigrant juvenile status” and hopes he gets a green card this week, but even that won’t help. New immigrants are ineligible for public benefits for five years.

“Some states have expanded access to those other benefits. Missouri is not one of those states,” Irish said. “So he is not considered a qualified immigrant for Medicaid purposes even once he has his green card.”

In response to FOX4’s request for interviews, Debra Walker with the Missouri Department of Mental Health sent this statement:

“Due to HIPAA, the Department of Mental Health cannot share information on individuals.

“The department is aware of the situation and is working with the Department of Social Services to find options and resources.”

This is Missouri Gov. Mike Parson’s response to our request regarding Leo’s case:

“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.”

The Missouri Department of Social Services, Children’s Division did not reply to FOX4’s request for comment.

If the situation is not figured out, Leo will be released Sunday.

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