Empowering Foster Youth: The Case for Supporting the Increasing Access to Foster Care Through 21 Act

In the ever-evolving landscape of foster care, the needs of transitioning youth demand attention and action. As organizations deeply invested in the success and well-being of these young individuals, we unite in support of H.R. 7010, the Increasing Access to Foster Care Through 21 Act. This legislation represents a crucial stride towards providing comprehensive support and services to foster youth beyond the age of 18, recognizing the evolving challenges and opportunities of the present era.

The world has transformed significantly since the federal decision in 1980 that mandated the end of federal foster care at age 18. Traditional paths to adulthood, such as immediate full-time employment or access to college, have become less accessible and affordable. With the rising costs of living and limited opportunities, many young adults, even those outside the foster care system, rely on family support well past their high school years.

“If a young adult leaves foster care at 18, they must have an exit plan with significant resources,” said Elizabeth Villa, a CARES Ambassador. “And if the young person chooses to continue with extended care services, they should be free to select services that meet their individual needs without feeling overly monitored. [The goal] should be to provide a healthy and nurturing environment for them.”

Youth in care face unique challenges, including adverse childhood experiences, disrupted social connections, and barriers to opportunity. The Increasing Access to Foster Care Through 21 Act acknowledges these complexities and aims to bridge the gap by providing necessary supports as young people navigate the challenging transition to adulthood. While this is a necessary step, it is only the beginning of the breadth of support needed. Key revisions in the bill include:

  1. Extended Care until 22nd Birthday: The revised act extends foster care until the young person’s 22nd birthday, recognizing that the transition to independence is not a one-size-fits-all process.
  2. Incentives over Mandates: Unlike its predecessor, the new bill opts for incentives rather than mandates. By delinking young people aged 18-22 from the Aid to Families with Dependent Children (AFDC) eligibility requirements, the revised act ensures broader federal coverage for this age group, fostering a more flexible and supportive environment.
  3. Guidance for Workforce Integration: Acknowledging the importance of career development, the bill mandates the Administration for Children and Families (ACF) and the Department of Labor (DOL) to provide guidance on connecting young people in extended foster care with Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act (WIOA) programs.

“It’s great [that this bill] extends the age to 21, but I feel like [this] also puts more attention on working with youth sooner, like, even if it’s like extended to 21, you shouldn’t be waiting until they are 18 to begin talking with them about transitioning, it should happen sooner like freshman year of high school,” said Brana Phillips, a CARES Ambassador. “Also, we can’t think only extending the age is going to be the thing that fixes the problem. We have to be transparent about what the needs are and what hasn’t worked before.”

By endorsing the Increasing Access to Foster Care Through 21 Act, we understand that we play a vital role in addressing a critical gap in the support system. This legislation represents a significant step towards ensuring that all young people and we are excited to see what continued change will be built on this legislation.

Pathways to Independence — Supporting Youth Aging Out of Foster Care

This month, the Center for the Study of Social Policy (CSSP) and Creating Real and Actionable Solutions (CARES), a CSSP initiative funded by the Conrad Hilton Foundation, submitted written testimony that addresses strategies to better support youth aging out of foster care to the Committee on Ways and Means, Subcommittee on Work and Welfare. Young people play an important role in shaping our society and contributing to their families, their communities, and the broader economy. Their ability to fulfill their hopes and aspirations will ultimately determine our collective future. As one youth who was interviewed as part of the CARES community analysis shared:

“I can be something great, no matter what my background [is], no matter what foster care was, because at the end of the day, it’s not foster care that defines me.”

Young people deserve opportunities that promote their health and well-being, maximize their power and promise, and support their ability to achieve their goals and dreams. Investments in community-based supports are indispensable to fulfilling this vision. Upstream investments in programs like Title IV-B of the Social Security Act (Title IV-B) provide systems and communities the opportunity and ability to be more responsive to and supportive of youth and their expressed needs while also preventing costly and harmful deeper-end system involvement.

Read the full post on Medium.