Foster Care to Age 21 May Reach 25th State This Week

The Ohio legislature passed House Bill 50 last week, which would extend foster care until the age of 21 for teens who wanted extra time. Alaska may do the same this week.

Youth Services Insider is told by a reliable source that a signature from Ohio Gov. John Kasich is “in the bag,” so you can chalk that one up as the 24th state to extend the age of foster care. You’d have to think Alaska Gov. Bill Walker will sign off if House Bill 27 passes, since he’s the one who added it to a list of bills to be considered in a special extended session of the legislature.

About 1,000 youths age out of foster care and into adulthood at age 18 in Ohio each year, according to Ohio Fostering Connections, the chief advocacy body behind the push for new legislation.

“With the passage of House Bill 50, Ohio can begin the process of launching a program of core support services to help youth who age out of foster care to bridge more successfully to adulthood,” said Ohio Fostering Connections Chair Mark Mecum, in a statement released after the bill’s passage.

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Alaska and Ohio could join this list soon, making foster care to 21 the policy in half of states.

Between 2010 and 2013, just about 270 18-year-olds aged out of Alaska foster care, according to federal data. House Bill 27 would permit an extension of one year in state custody to a youth turning 18 without any permanency plan in place; two additional one-year extensions of custody could be achieved through a hearing.

If both bills become law, it will put the scoreboard at 25 in, 25 out in terms of states that have extended the runway on foster care. It is a notion that barely existed in the early 2000s, with a few notable exceptions, including Illinois. The famed Midwest study by Chapin Hall found that youth who aged out of Illinois foster care at 21 did significantly better on several markers when compared with youth aging out of Iowa and Wisconsin’s systems at age 18.

Proponents of extending foster care received a major boost in 2008 when the federal government began to help pay for such extensions via the Fostering Connections to Success and Increasing Adoptions Act. Under that law, if a state’s expansion plan is approved by the Children’s Bureau at the Department of Health and Human Services, it can draw down IV-E funds to pay for a portion of the foster care services to those over 18.

The bill did not immediately effect action at the state level; by 2010, only Texas applied for a federal partnership on extending care. Now, of the 23 states that have extended foster care beyond 18, 21 have been approved to tap IV-E funds to serve those older youth.

In reading the local coverage on both bills, YSI was struck by this kicker at the end of an article about the Ohio bill. From the Columbus Dispatch, referring to an argument made for the bill by Ohio Fostering Connections:

With less unemployment and need for government assistance, Fostering Connections says that over 10 years, the state will see a financial benefit for expanding support to age 21, which occurs if certain education and work requirements are met. More than half of states have expanded services to age 21.

In our humble opinion, this is the question about foster care extensions that will most determine if the other 25 states follow suit. There is no doubt that the immediate, straight-up proposition of extending care costs money, even with federal support. But will the experience in early states prove that, over a longer period of time, the extra three years lead to lower uses of public assistance, incarceration costs, etcetera?

The list of states that have includes many conservative states where government would be far more receptive to an extension if there was some concrete evidence that it saved money.

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John Kelly
About John Kelly 942 Articles
John Kelly is senior editor for The Chronicle of Social Change.

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