Although the 2014 legislative session became notorious mostly for larger budget woes and the struggle to close the coverage gap for the 400,000 Virginians who currently lack health care coverage, the final budget bill did provide some small but mighty wins for youth and families involved in the child welfare system.
Our most prominent child welfare policy campaign this year was an effort to extend foster care services and adoption assistance to age 21, under an important provision of the 2008 federal Fostering Connections to Success and Increasing Adoptions Act.
The General Assembly and the Governor’s Office included funding for Virginia to take advantage of this additional federal funding that will help social services to expand the types of assistance youth who currently “age out” of foster care at 18 will be able to receive. In 2013, Virginia had approximately 550 youth “age out” of foster care at 18 without being connected to families.
The new program will become available to youth in July 2015, once the program itself is built and training for workers is in place.
This new program is optional for youth in care at age 18, and these youth must also meet certain work and/or school requirements in order to qualify. Importantly, youth who “age out” of foster care at 18 will now have access to housing and greater caseworker support, which will help alleviate some of the practical and financial barriers to these youths’ successful transition to adulthood.
The housing piece is critical—youth who age out of foster care at 18 without permanent family connections are at serious risk of homelessness, school dropout, unemployment, poor health outcomes and criminal activity. Having a place to call home can often serve as the stabilizing force that allows these young people to focus on their academic success or finding and keeping a job.
Virginia will now join the more than half of all states that have elected to extend foster care services up to age 21, recognizing that the transition to adulthood is especially challenging for youth who aren’t connected to families, and who may have experienced great trauma as kids. Youth in foster care also have higher incidences of health and mental health needs than their peers not in care, and so face greater challenges in moving from the children’s medical system to the adult system. Caseworker support through these years can make all the difference in successfully shepherding these youth through the time period when they are becoming totally responsible for their own health care.
The program also provides additional assistance for youth in foster care who are adopted at age 16 or older. Virginia currently has nearly 200 young people ages 16-18 in the foster care system who are eligible for adoption. Older youth in care have just as great a need to connect with a family as younger children, but for various reasons have greater difficulty in finding permanent connections. Increasing adoption assistance to age 21 could help ease some of those challenges and provide them with the most important resource we can offer: a family.
For more information about this issue (and its implementation), contact Voices Senior Policy Attorney Amy Woolard: email@example.com
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