Voices’ Blog

Less than 5 Percent of Foster Youth Obtain a Driver’s Licenses While in Care: How Virginia Lawmakers Can Change That

Posted:  -  By: Allison Gilbreath

The Problem

Learning to drive in the teen years is a rite of passage to young adulthood for millions of youth. It brings new levels of independence and opportunities, enabling young people to take themselves to schools, work, and activities.  However, teens in foster care often face significant barriers to obtaining a driver’s license, such as difficulty securing the typical parental or guardian permission needed to enroll in driver’s education or secure an insurance policy, as well as an inability to pay for the various fees associated with becoming a driver. Without a driver’s license, young people in foster care often miss out on age-appropriate adolescent experiences and opportunities that contribute to success in adulthood.

The Impact

Voices has hosted focus groups with youth in care for several years and no matter what region of Virginia we are in  –  obtaining drivers licenses is a reoccurring theme. The emotions attached to not having a drivers license ranged from disappointment of not being able to accept a job offer to frustration from not feeling supported by the adults in their lives. Youth in care, more than anything, want to have the same opportunities they would have had if they were not in foster care.

In Virginia, less than 5 percent of foster care youth who age out of care and transition to adulthood have obtained their driver’s licenses

According to the study from the Commission on Youth:

Foster care youth who fail to learn to drive and obtain their licenses at the same time as their peers are impacted in several ways:

  • Normalcy. Foster youth who do not learn to drive at the same time as their peers miss this important rite of passage of adolescence. They can also miss out on crucial developmental experiences and opportunities that are typically made possible by being able to drive
  • Safety. Foster youth who wait until they are 18 to learn to drive do not benefit from Virginia’s provisional driver’s licensing program for youthful drivers, which has been proven to reduce accidents among teen aged drivers.
  • Transition to adulthood. Foster youth who leave care without a license are less prepared to make the transition to adulthood, both because they have not had the same developmental experiences as their peers, and because they lack transportation.

The Solution

Virginia lawmakers have the opportunity to invest $250,000 in the budget to support the development and implementation of a statewide driver’s licensing program to support foster care youth in obtaining a driver’s license. If included in the budget, funds would be made available to local departments of social services to reimburse foster care providers for increases to their existing car insurance premiums that occur because a foster care youth in their care has been added to their insurance policy. Additionally, funding would be made available to foster care youth in Virginia’s Fostering Futures Program to assist in covering the cost of obtaining motor vehicle insurance.

The Department would coordinate and administer the driver’s licensing program based on best practices from similar programs in other states like Florida’s Keys to Independence program.

Delegate Keam (Item 354 #6) and Senator Favola (354#9s)are carrying these budget amendments in the House and Senate. Let your legislator know how important responding to our action alert.

Action Alert

Tell Legislators to Support Youth in Foster Care Obtaining a Drivers License

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