Each year, hundreds of South Carolina young people turn 18 and "age out" of foster care, meaning they no longer qualify for services.
With no family to guide them, they're left on their own to weather the trials of young adulthood, such as figuring out how to rent their first apartment, setting up that first checking account, weighing education options and learning the ropes of being in a relationship.
"Just imagine being emancipated and not having anyone to call when you make the stupid mistakes that we all make as young adults," said Katie Morgan, chief of staff for the state Department of Social Services. "Someone you can rely on. Someone you can call for advice."
A $750,000 federal grant DSS just received could help change that and address several other problems S.C. foster children face.
During the next three years, DSS will partner with the S.C. Guardian Ad Litem program to scour records of foster youth on the verge of "aging out" to find family members, teachers, coaches or others to provide support.
Maybe it's a father who wasn't able to be in the child's life early but can be now. Maybe it's a teacher who took an interest in the child.
Nearly $50,000 of the grant will go to finding these people in 11 S.C. counties and reconnecting them with the young people.
"It is some place to go for the life skills that, traditionally, parents would give," said Louise Cooper, director of the S.C. Guardian Ad Litem program "Many of our kids in foster care, they lose their identity. This is a vital missing piece for many people who have grown up in the system."
A portion of the grant money, $366,000, will help children in danger of entering foster care.
Family members who take in a child will be assigned a navigator to help find community resources.
"For example, if grandma says, 'I can keep the twins but I don't have a bed,' the navigator would look around and maybe find there's a church that can provide a bed," Morgan said.
The navigators could also help the relative figure out the school system, find counseling for a traumatized child, and more.
Needy families in five counties will receive help from a navigator for three months.
"It could be a food stamp application. It could be they need to find a doctor for the child," said Paula Fendley, CEO of the S.C. Association of Children's Homes and Family Services, which will oversee the navigators. "It's just good old-fashioned social work."
The final piece of the grant money will go toward expanding the United Way's 2-1-1 phone system.
Any South Carolinian can call the number and get information or referrals for food, housing, employment, health care, counseling and other social services.
About $130,000 will go toward system improvements and expanding it statewide.
Because South Carolina is one of a handful of states to receive the grant, the federal government wants to see whether the programs work.
USC will receive $202,000 to analyze the grant-sponsored programs and determine whether they're effective.
"The evaluation part is going to be very rigorous," Fendley said. "But if it works and (the federal government) sees these creative services are working, then maybe there's the potential for permanent federal funding or federal matching funds."