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 11 former foster youths who 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 carefully researched policy recommendation during their time in Washington. Today, we highlight the recommendation of Darrah Hall, 22, a senior at the University of Memphis and a peer advocate for foster youth in Tennessee.
The scope of the federally funded Court Improvement Program should be extended to support trainings of foster youths age 14 and above.
Trainings would “explain court and agency personnel, their roles, legal definitions, court processes and timelines.” They would also educate youths in applicable states about permanency options after 18, with a goal of increasing the amount of youth who choose to stay in extended foster care.
The Fostering Connections to Success and Increasing Adoptions Act, signed into law by George W. Bush in 2008, permits states to seek federal reimbursement for youths who choose to stay in foster care between the ages of 18 and 21.
So far, 19 states have created a reimbursable foster care system to serve these older youths. The Government Accountability Office examined data from 13 of those states and found just 4,997 youths above 18 for whom states received a federal foster care payments.
In Her Own Words
“As a peer advocate, I counseled older youth about their upcoming transition out of care. As I listened to them, I noticed a recurring theme of confusion surrounding their permanency and treatment plans, and many expressed disinterest in their transition plans.
The youth felt turning 18 meant ‘freedom’ from the system that regulated every aspect of their lives, and they preferred that ‘freedom’ even to their own detriment and future lack of support and services.”
The Chronicle‘s Take
Hall appears to have hit on a blind spot in the measurement of Fostering Connections. Much attention is paid to how many states are implementing the extension of foster care to 21, and why many states have not opted in.
But in the states that have implemented, it appears there is a lack of information on how interested older youths are in taking the state up on its offer.
On the one hand, you have Hall’s first-hand experience discussing the option with Memphis youths, who live in a state where an extended stay in foster care is on the table. She describes a frequently expressed distaste or distrust for the foster care system.
On the other hand you have a state like California, where the number of youths who have stayed in foster care past 18 has skyrocketed since Fostering Connections.
Hall’s broader recommendation is relevant in any state, whether or not participation in extended foster care is high or low. Older youths, facing the prospect of entering adulthood alone, deserve an informed training on what options are out there and who to talk to about them.
In the case of the disillusioned youths that Hall spoke with, such a training might reveal to them that in some states, some of the post-18 care options involve far less monitoring than what they are used to in normal care.
In other states, the nature of older care could be a problem. The GAO report cites several challenges to successful 18+ programs that were identified to them by states, including “developing a program that meets the specific needs of older youth.”
The dialogue on that is only helped by including informed older teens.
Click here to read Hall’s entire proposal and those of her fellow FYI participants.