NASHVILLE, Tenn. (WKRN) – Entering the foster care system isn’t easy, especially when children are removed from their families and sent to live elsewhere. However, transitioning out of the system has its struggles.

A child’s needs aren’t just black and white.

“The images they’ve been trained to think of when you hear foster kids or like juvenile justice, when they were able to see me for who I was, they were able to start thinking about that stuff because they were seeing an entire person,” explained Tristan Slogh, a participant of the LifeSet program.

More than 9,000 children in Tennessee end up in foster care, some in more serious situations than others.

“I stayed with them until I was 14,” Slogh said as he described his situation at home with his parents. “That’s when things came to a head. I was lashing out for a number of reasons, a lot of problems that I don’t think I even had the tools to deal with it, and I wasn’t getting the support to learn how. Eventually, I entered DCS custody at 14.”

Slogh grew up in East Tennessee, but his childhood would lead him to several high-security placement facilities. That is, until he turned 18, and then the next hurdle began.

“For two years the plan was going back home, you’re going to be with your mom, you’re going to be with your family and eventually it got to the point where I was going to turn 17 and wasn’t any closer to going home,” he explained. “I’m not going home, and I’ve got to accept that and I’ve got to figure something else out.”

As children develop, their needs change, especially when faced with adulthood. Slogh said that’s why he was lucky to have walked into another program, one he said was specifically focused on where he is now as an adult.

“It is real life, in real life scenarios where we’re in the day to day with these young people,” described Nikki Swann, a program director for Youth Villages in Middle Tennessee.

It’s one of the nation’s first, and now largest programs, helping young people transition into adulthood after the foster care system. The initiative was launched in 1998 in Tennessee and has since grown into other states to give more youth a second chance. The program called LifeSet is focused on young adults aged 17-21 years old.

(LifeSet Location map)

“Housing, establishing positive relationships, budgeting, education,” described Swann, as she explained just some of the things the program offers. “The connections that you can make and the lights that you can see sort of turn on when somebody who has so much potential, but just needs somebody to sort of walk alongside them or just give them an encouraging word or even financial help.”

The National Foster Youth Institute reports an average of one out of every four youth in foster care will become homeless within four years of aging out of foster care. The organization also shows less than 10% of youth in foster care obtain a degree. The LifeSet program is working to turn both of these statistics around. The program has tracked that 82.5% of participants end up being employed, in school, or graduated.

“If you think about it, there are about 9,000 kids in custody right now, and every year about 1,000 exit or turn 18,” Swann said. “There’s such a risk for not positive outcomes for someone who doesn’t have the support system”

Which is why they call the program, “the gift of a good start.”