California Rolls Out Plan to Prevent Youth from Aging Out of Foster Care During Pandemic

aging out
California Gov. Gavin Newsom discussing changes to the foster care system at an April 13th news briefing. Photo: YouTube.

Last week, Gov. Gavin Newsom (D) announced the state would prevent foster youth from aging out of the system during the pandemic. This week, the administration laid out the specifics of his order. 

Extended foster care services in California, which typically covers youth from ages 18 to 21, have been temporarily extended to prevent youth in the system from losing benefits during the coronavirus crisis. 

According to the new directive issued by the state’s Department of Social Services on April 18, youth currently on extended foster care services who turn 21 on or after the date of the directive will be able to continue receiving foster care benefits through June 30, 2020.

Last year, there were 2,347 young adults in California who exited extended foster care services at age 21, according to the department. 

To ensure payments are not interrupted, case managers for eligible youth who wish to exercise this extension need to document this desire in the state’s case management system and send the documentation to county eligibility staff. The directive indicates that these extension payments will use state funding to circumvent federal restrictions. 

“At this moment, we think we should extend the emancipation process and we’re providing resources, millions of dollars to do just that — to extend the time where people can stay with their current caregivers, get the kind of support and food that they deserve,” Newsom said in a press conference last Monday. 

The guideline also reiterates the temporary moratorium on work- and school-based eligibility requirements for participation in extended care which was announced late last month. The new directive further clarifies that former foster youth applying to re-enter care can be deemed eligible by expressing a willingness to meet at least one of the normal requirements after the crisis passes. Further, placement and services must begin immediately upon signing of the entry agreement and cannot be postponed to await court approval. 

The directive also indicates that housing payments must continue to youth who have experienced placement disruption during the pandemic and that approval of new placements temporarily will not require in-person inspection of the facilities. 

With Newsom’s executive order, California joined Illinois and Rhode Island as the only states that have moved to ensure that youth in foster care do not age out during a state of emergency, a scenario that could leave them homeless at a time when safety guidance requires everyone to stay home. 

Advocates have been pushing for measures to prevent aging out amidst the pandemic. Foster Care Alumni of America, which counts local chapters in 24 states, has been calling on state governors and child welfare directors to commit. In a letter sent jointly with the National Center for Housing and Child Welfare to Gov. Larry Hogan (R-Md.), chair of the National Governors Association, the group asked all governors to suspend emancipation proceedings for six months. 

“It is unconscionable and inhumane to release young adults under these conditions of international unrest and uncertainty,” the letter said. “Governors have the latitude to instruct their state child welfare commissioners and courts to allow youth to remain under the care of the state and county foster care systems even beyond the age of 21 in order to protect them during these dangerous and confusing circumstances.”

On the federal level, the U.S. Children’s Bureau told The Chronicle of Social Change in March that it could not currently reimburse states that extend foster care beyond age 21 during the pandemic. The agency “does not have the authority to waive” statutes limiting the program to age 21, unless Congress is willing to write that into coronavirus legislation.

A social media campaign called #UpChafee has included requests for Congress to provide the administration with that authority by temporarily raising the age for federally reimbursable foster care costs to age 22. About half of states currently receive federal funds to cover foster care for older youth between 18 and 21. 

“No young person should age out,” said Jerry Milner, who heads the Children’s Bureau, at a virtual town hall held last week with current and former foster youth. “It’s an unacceptable outcome. And this crisis highlights the importance of that.”

Sara Tiano can be reached at stiano@chronicleofsocialchange.org.

John Kelly contributed to this article.

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Sara Tiano, Staff Writer, The Chronicle of Social Change
About Sara Tiano, Staff Writer, The Chronicle of Social Change 121 Articles
General assignment reporter for The Chronicle of Social Change. Reach her at stiano@chronicleofsocialchange.org.