Jon Brumbach CCF Board Member
For many graduating high school seniors the month of June is a time of excitement and achievement. Their hard work will be rewarded with a diploma and near endless possibilities. However, not too long ago, a young person in foster care who was lucky enough to graduate from high school faced very different possibilities.
For many years, a foster youth’s 18th birthday or high school graduation meant the state no longer had any responsibility to care for them. Foster parent maintenance payments ceased, and foster youth would be left with a garbage bag full of their belongings and a bus ticket. Instead of the possibilities of college, a career and independence, former foster youth faced homelessness, jail and continued dependence on state services. They aged-out of the system, but at an age few are ready to be on their own. Our youth in foster care deserve better.
When we have failed to reunite these youth with their families or find them loving adoptive families, we must ensure that they enter adulthood safe, stable and supported.
Since 2006, Washington state has endeavored to help these young people by extending foster care to age 21. It began with a pilot, allowing 50 young people per year to remain in care to pursue their post-secondary education.
The benefits were clear, not only did the youth achieve greater outcomes, but it provided a positive return-on-investment for tax payers.
Congressman Jim McDermott saw these benefits and sought to elevate the model to the federal level. He drafted the Fostering Connections to Success and Increasing Adoptions Act, allowing states to receive federal support for extending foster care to age 21.
Since the bill passed in 2008, Washington state has incrementally gone from a pilot program to the Extended Foster Care program. Starting 2011, the legislature has approved the following populations of foster youth to enroll in Extended Foster Care:
2011: Youth pursuing their high school diploma or GED
2012: Youth pursuing their post-secondary education (college or vocational/technical)
2013: Youth participating in programs that reduce barriers to employment
2014: Youth working 80 hours per month or more (to go into effect March 2015).
These expansions have come despite some of the most difficult budget environments our state has ever faced.
Now, over 330 foster youth are celebrating the possibilities of higher education and a career from the safety and stability of home.
But our work is not done yet, there are still youth who are unable to participate, and they are our most vulnerable. Those with documented medical conditions that make them unable to work or go to school are not eligible for the program.
Children’s Campaign Fund is working hard to ensure our elected leaders are champions for this issue so every foster youth can celebrate their 18th birthday and the possibilities to come.