Voices’ Blog

Youth in Focus: Voices champions needs of youth aging out of foster care

Posted:  -  By: Voices for VA's Kids

For the coming 2014 Virginia legislative session, Voices is continuing our focus on support for youth ages 18-21 who have “aged out” of the foster care system—that is, youth who have turned 18 while still in foster care without having been connected to a permanent family, either by returning to their parents, being adopted, or having a relative take custody of them.

While Virginia’s been doing a good job of safely reducing the number of children in our foster care system overall, we’re really falling short when it comes to making sure kids are connected to permanent families before they “age out” of the system at age 18. When kids turn 18 while they’re still in foster care, they’re left to figure out how to survive and how to thrive in their communities on their own, without that critical family support that can ease that transition.

These are young adults – the youngest adults, in fact – and without supports and services, they’re at greater risk of all kinds of negative outcomes—homelessness, unemployment, school dropout, and criminal justice involvement.

In 2012, Virginia had over 600 kids turn 18 while still in foster care, and that’s just too many. This year, we’re asking Virginia policymakers to extend the safety net for these young people just a bit longer, to age 21, which will help so many of them build a strong foundation for their adult lives and help them become successful members of their communities.

As a bonus, it’s also more cost-effective—without these supports, Virginia will end up spending even more money on these youth, through welfare programs & criminal justice costs. National studies estimate the “costs of doing nothing” at about $300,000 per youth.

These kids come into a system in crisis, and it’s our job to make sure they don’t leave in crisis, too.

Fortunately, we’ve already garnered some strong support. This December, Governor McDonnell released his 2015-2016 biennial budget, the last of his administration, and the basis upon which Governor-elect McAuliffe and the 2014 General Assembly will build their budget recommendations and ultimately approve Virginia’s fiscal plan for the next two years. In it, he provided funding for Virginia to do exactly as we’ve advocated: to opt in to a provision of the federal Fostering Connections Act that will bring much broader supports to foster youth who age out of the system at 18, and extending those benefits to age 21, most importantly, by providing housing supports to these youth at a time when many are at dire risk of becoming homeless.

The program will also extend adoption assistance benefits to youth adopted from foster care at age 16 or older.

We’ve detailed this “Extension of Care” campaign in a portion of our child welfare legislative agenda here, and will keep you posted as our work progresses into the session.

If you would like more information, or if you are a foster youth, former foster youth, or foster family member or friend who would like to support this effort (such as testifying at committee hearings or writing letters to the editor), please contact Voices Senior Policy Attorney Amy Woolard at amy@vakids.org.

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