Child Welfare Ideas from the Experts #4: Expand Eligibility for Chafee Foster Youth Programs

Christopher Scott, 23, a graduate of Central Connecticut State University. Photo by Congressional Coalition on Adoption Institute

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. Each of the FYI participants crafted a policy recommendation during their time in Washington, D.C.

Today we highlight the recommendation of Christopher Scott, 23, a graduate of Central Connecticut State University.

The Proposal

Scott’s set of recommendations would open up the two Chafee Foster Care Independence Programs to children who have achieved permanence by adoption or guardianship. Scott would extend the eligibility of the independent living program to cover any child adopted from foster care, “regardless of age.” He’d expand the Educational Training Vouchers (ETV) eligibility to include youth who were adopted by relatives between their 14thand 18thbirthdays.

Scott would also require states that didn’t spend their entire ETV allotment at the end of a fiscal year to report on the reason that some money went unused.

The Argument

Scott argues that youth who age out of foster care, those who are adopted or in a guardianship, need more access to federal assistance, particularly in terms of the Chafee Foster Care Independence Program. Limiting eligibility mostly to those who age out of care, he says, “creates perverse incentives that keep youth in the foster care system, as prospective adoptive parents may be reluctant to take on the significant financial burden of adopting a child, and young people themselves may not want to relinquish these important supports.”

Boundless Futures, the most recent set of policy proposals from the Foster Youth Internship Program

In Their Own Words

“Because I had been adopted, I did not qualify for ETV, but I was fortunate to grow up in Connecticut, where I could receive adoption tuition subsidies to attend college. This changed the trajectory of my life and put me on a path to becoming the best version of myself. As a young professional, I’ve been able to reconnect with my adopted family and encourage them to improve their ability to parent as they raise my younger sisters.”

The Chronicle’s Take

Scott’s proposals around Chafee eligibility amount to a dramatic expansion of the scope and mission of the Chafee programs, which is to provide help to youth who are likely to become adults in foster care or exit to permanency in their late teens. There is is a case to be made for that, because what Scott asserts is true – there are foster parents who are reluctant to move toward permanency because the protections and benefits are better in foster care.

But this must be made with a proportionate financial investment or not at all. Chafee eligibility has already been widened without any additional money, which can winnow down the amount of help any one youth gets.

We are rooting real hard for Scott’s proposal around unspent funds in the Chafee ETV account. Maybe this is an overstatement to some extent, but unspent college tuition assistance for current and former foster youth means a state isn’t getting the word out about it, or is doing a bad job getting foster youths prepared for college. Or both.

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John Kelly
About John Kelly 1094 Articles
John Kelly is editor-in-chief of The Chronicle of Social Change.