New Mexico Takes Up Bill to Extend Foster Care to 21

Members of the New Mexico Child Advocacy Network (NMCAN), which is pushing for the bill to extend foster care to age 21. Photo courtesy of NMCAN

New Mexico may soon join the majority of states in offering “extended foster care” to youth ages 18 to 21, if a proposed bill makes it to the desk of new Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham (D).

Senate Bill 23, sponsored by Senators Michael Padilla (D) and Candace Gould (R), will receive a hearing of the Senate Judiciary Committee this week. The bill would extend the upper age of foster care to 21, linking older youth to such services as independent living support and continued case management.

“This bill was developed in partnership with young people who have experience in systems as well as local and national partners,” said Arika E. Sanchez, director of policy and advocacy for the New Mexico Child Advocacy Network (NMCAN).

“We are hopeful that New Mexico will join the … other states who have extended care to provide young people impacted by systems more time to finish school, develop skills to be successful adults, and build supportive networks and social capital.”

The state is home to some 2,600 youth in foster care, according to the most recent federal data. Nearly 18 percent of them are age 13 or older, and are at risk of aging out of the foster care system without the support of a caring adult.

“Extended care provides these young people more time to finish school, develop skills to be successful adults, and build supportive networks and social capital,” reads a fact sheet on the bill released by the New Mexico Child Advocacy Network (NMCAN).

Current state law does enable the court to extend its supervision over a foster youth until age 19 if it is deemed necessary. Its funds support for those youth through the Chafee Foster Care Independence Program, a small federal grant stream that supports independent living.

SB 23 would permit any foster care facing emancipation at age 18 to remain in foster care until up to age 21. Assuming the Department of Health and Human Services approved New Mexico’s plan, the state would be able to draw federal funding for it through the Title IV-E child welfare entitlement. Extended foster care is expected to cost the state about $1.35 million in new state general fund dollars per year.

There are currently 28 states with federally approved IV-E plans for extended care, which first became an option with the passage of the Fostering Connections to Success and Increasing Adoptions Act in 2008. Another 19 states have extended care programs that are funded outside of IV-E funds.

Oklahoma and Rhode Island are the only states that offer no form of extended care option. New Mexico and Delaware are the only two states left where extended care is only possible when the court decides it is necessary.

New Mexico was ranked last in the nation for indicators of child well-being, and 48th in the nation for child poverty, according to the 2018 Kids Count Data Book produced by the Annie E. Casey Foundation. The state is also embroiled in a federal lawsuit for its treatment of 13 children in foster care.

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Christie Renick
About Christie Renick 123 Articles
Tucson-based Southwest Editor for The Chronicle of Social Change. Follow @christiejrenick.