Child Welfare Ideas from the Experts, #9: Ensure Re-Entry Provision in Extended Foster Care

The Chronicle of Social Change is highlighting each of the policy recommendations made this summer by the participants of the Foster Youth Internship Program (FYI), a group of 12 former foster youths who have completed congressional internships.

The program is overseen each summer by the Congressional Coalition on Adoption Institute, with support from the Sara Start Fund.

Each of the FYI participants crafted a policy recommendation during their time in Washington, D.C. Today we highlight the recommendation of Kristopher Wannquist, 22, a student at Washington State University.

The Proposal

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Kristopher Wannquist, 22, a student at Washington State University. Photo: CCAI

Wannquist wants two amendments to the extended foster care provision that was part of the Fostering Connections to Success and Increasing Adoptions Act. That provision enables states to design a plan to extend foster care up to age 21 and share the cost with the federal government through the Title IV-E entitlement.

First, Wannquist would make it a requirement that any IV-E extended care plan permit youth to enter extended care after choosing to try independence first. In other words: If a youth ages out at 18 and tries to make it on his or her own, then wants to come back to foster care, the state has to allow it if it wants federal funds.

Second, Wannquist would require states with federal extended care plans to make certain that older youth were made aware of their eligibility to remain in care. This should be done no later than six months prior to a youth’s 18th birthday.

The Argument

Current federal rules permit states to allow kids back into extended care, but do not require a re-entry policy.

Wannquist’s argument is simply that the average outcomes for youth who age out at 18 are dismal and costly, often resulting in “increased welfare and Medicaid expenditures, higher costs of incarceration.”

The risks of aging out at 18 “show the federal government would benefit financially” by helping as many youth in that age bracket as possible before expensive, long-term interventions are necessary.

In His Own Words

“While I was fortunate enough to benefit from EFC [extended foster care], my older foster brother was ineligible. He entered foster care at age four and aged out at 18, because he was not notified by the state or his caseworker about EFC.

… He could not re-enter foster care because of the state’s age limitation. Since then my brother has experienced homelessness and has not received support for education or a stable job.”

The Chronicle‘s Take

Wannquist is correct that the program instructions that guided implementation of Fostering Connections gives states a choice on letting youth back in after choosing independence at 18. From those regs:

“A title IV-E agency can extend foster care assistance for a youth age 18 or older pursuant … in a way that permits a youth to stay in foster care continuously or leave foster care for a period and return to foster care at some point after attaining age 18.”

Wannquist would have Congress amend Fostering Connections to change the “can” in that statement to “must.”

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2016 participants in the Congressional Coalition on Adoption Institute’s Foster Youth Internship Program. Photo: CCAI

But that might not even require legislation. After re-reading the actual Fostering Connections bill, it is silent on re-entry versus continuing into extended care at 18. The hope by bill authors was actually that youth could leave and come back, but that’s not what ended up in the final regulations.

One of our initial questions after reading this proposal was: How many youths find themselves in this position – having left the foster care system, and wanting back in?

If California is any barometer … it’s a lot. The state permits youth to enter extended care after leaving, and 2,143 youths have taken the state up on that offer. That’s about a quarter of all the youth who have been served by California’s extended foster care program.

It seems ludicrous to penalize a foster youth for trying to make it without the extended care by walling him or her off from coming back for that same support. If anything, you’d think that policy would incentivize more kids to stay in at 18, because the risk to leaving is so high.

But that gets to Wannquist’s other issue: Making sure kids even know they are eligible for up to three years of extra protection in foster care. Wannquist’s suggestion that this takes place at a transition planning meeting makes sense to us.

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John Kelly
About John Kelly 924 Articles
John Kelly is senior editor for The Chronicle of Social Change.

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