This year we find ourselves in a remarkably similar position to where we were last year, with regard to our advocacy around extending foster care supports and adoption assistance for older youth to age 21 (a state option under the federal Fostering Connections Act).
The House and Senate released their versions of the budget this past Sunday, February 8th. The Senate once again preserved the funding for the program, which had been included in the Governor’s introduced budget at the start of the legislative session. The House, however, stripped out all funding for the program—including the initial funding in the final approved budget passed in 2014—which would prevent the program from starting July 1 of this year, as it had been slated to do.
But all hope is not yet lost: because the Senate supports this program, the issue will be discussed during the budget conference process that will begin as early as the end of this week. We must send two important messages: 1) to the Senate budget conferees, we must thank them and urge continued support—they must hold strong on this issue; 2) to the House budget conferees, we must urge them to agree to fund this critical, evidence-based program.
There are several ways you can help:
• Emailing or calling the offices of the budget conferees (who will be announced late this week) to express your support (we will be posting more detailed instructions on how to do this, so please stay tuned)
• Testifying before committees considering the related bill on this program, if you are a youth in or formerly in foster care, or a foster parent (contact Voices Senior Policy Attorney Amy Woolard at email@example.com for more info on this)
• Writing Op-Eds and letters to the editor of our regional newspapers to express support (contact Amy about this, as well, if interested)
This is an extremely important program for several reasons:
1. Virginia still lingers last in the nation (by rate) in providing permanent family connections for youth before they “age out” of foster care at age 18. Though our numbers of “aging out” youth have decreased 9% each year over the last several years, there are still 500+ Virginia youth each year who are essentially on their own, without family support, as they transition to adulthood.
2. The program would also help to increase adoptions of older youth in care. The implementation plan projects that Virginia could successfully place nearly 180 youth ages 16-18 with adoptive parents. These are some of our more challenging adoptions to secure, for many reasons, so the potential for helping these youth achieve permanency is well worth the program’s minimal cost. Additionally, many youth who might benefit from this program have younger siblings also in foster care—as local agencies strive for siblings to be adopted together, we might find permanent families for many more youth than just our older population.
3. In the grand scheme, the cost of this program is minimal, for the benefits we receive. For a General Fund cost of about $3 million (paired with the state/local funds we already spend on these youth via the Independent Living program for 18-21 year olds), we would receive over $10 million per year in matching federal funds. We would also virtually eliminate current local spending on these youth—a total savings to localities of over $3.5 million per year.
4. Our youth who age out of care “age out” of state custody—they are, quite literally, our children. Given the trauma many of them have experienced before entering care and the disruption of being in state custody, we owe it to these youth to offer them a smooth transition to adulthood. Without the transition support this program would offer, they are at grave risk of homelessness, unemployment, school dropout, increased health issues, and potential criminal involvement. We can, and should, help prevent all of that from happening.
Here is our one-page fact sheet on why Virginia needs this program. Contact Senior Policy Attorney Amy Woolard, firstname.lastname@example.org, for more information.Read More Blog Posts