Whether heading to school or work, the doctor’s office or the grocery store, having the ability to drive is a necessity most Floridians take for granted.
Until recently, however, getting a license — not to mention paying for car insurance — was nearly impossible for teens in the state’s foster care system. Three years ago, in fact, only 20 youth ages 15 to 18 in the foster care system anywhere in Florida received their driver’s license before the age of 18.
In response, Florida legislators unanimously passed the Keys to Independence Act, an innovative three-year pilot program funded by the Florida Department of Children and Families and managed by Community Based Care of Central Florida.
The program, which launched in 2014, helps children as young as 15 get a learner’s permit by enrolling them in driver’s education courses and monitoring their progress until they earn a license. In addition to covering fees associated with the licensure process, it also reimburses the expenses for each licensed driver’s car insurance, which averages about $200 a month.
Keys to Independence has been a resounding success. In just a short time, the number of teens in foster care who have a driver’s license has almost tripled, and 1,035 participants are currently enrolled, including more than 330 in Tampa and Sarasota.
The program is impacting lives across Florida, providing newfound opportunity for young people just like Jake Whitmeyer, an 18-year-old from Cocoa.
Thanks to Keys to Independence, Jake passed his driver’s test on his first try and can afford the monthly insurance premiums. Now he drives to church, extracurricular school activities and his part-time job at a restaurant. Soon, Jake will drive to Eastern Florida State College for classes over summer break.
Simply put, Keys to Independence is opening doors for thousands of children who, through no fault of their own, must overcome a wide range of disadvantages.
That’s why we are sponsoring a companion bill during the upcoming legislative session to make this program a permanent fixture for Florida’s youth.
We urge our fellow lawmakers to once again give Keys to Independence their full support. We have seen how it has improved lives, and we look forward to its continued success far into the future.
Florida state Rep. Jennifer Sullivan, a Mount Dora Republican, is sponsoring House Bill 217. Jacksonville Republican state Sen. Aaron Bean, is sponsoring Senate Bill 60. For more information on the Keys to Independence program visit www.KeystoIndependenceFl.org.