Support Young People in Foster Care Beyond 21

The Chronicle of Social Change has examined the state of extended foster care in a four-part series published this week. You can find the entire series, Fostering Adults: The State of Care, here. 

New York City Administration for Children’s Services Commissioner David A. Hansell shares below what New York City has been doing to support youth through extended foster care.

David Hansell, director of New York’s Administration for Children’s Services. Photo: NYC.gov

COVID-19 has had profound impacts on young people across the country, and particularly on those in the foster care system. Many of those youth risk an abrupt loss of support and services immediately upon their exit from the system. No housing assistance. No food subsidies. No support networks. Especially in the midst of a pandemic, this needs to change.

While New York has always provided foster care services to youth up to age 21, a federal law change in 2008 enabled states to extend their foster care systems from age 18 to 21 with the support of federal funding.

Now, 49 states, including New York, have extended foster care beyond 18, with the majority taking federal support. But New York City has gone a step further. Despite the lack of state or federal support, the NYC Administration for Children’s Services (ACS) extends foster care even beyond the age of 21 when necessary to ensure that a young person has stable housing and other supports they need.

In New York City, we do not discharge young people from foster care without stable housing in place. This was true prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, and remains the case now, when stability for youth is so important. Those older than 18 who choose to leave foster care before they turn 21 still receive supports and services tailored to their unique challenges, and they can come back into foster care if needed.

ACS’s requirements for its foster care agencies state unambiguously that young people may not be discharged from foster care without achieving permanency (via reunification, adoption or kinship guardianship) or stable housing that can be reasonably expected to be the young person’s home for at least 12 months following discharge from care. Foster care agencies are required to submit the paperwork to continue foster care and support beyond age 21 if permanency or housing has not been secured prior to the young person turning 21.

Importantly, no youth is discharged from foster care even if the paperwork is delayed, and there is no age cap on foster care including when care is extended. While there is no state or federal support to provide foster care services to youth over age 21, the City continues to do so because we believe it is the right thing to do for the youth in our care.

In addition to stable housing, extending foster care beyond 18 means extended access to critical resources and support to help improve a young person’s pathway to adulthood. It can mean enrollment in college programs, as it does for hundreds of New York City youth in foster care. Or it can mean vocational skills and opportunities.

For instance, in the midst of the pandemic and when unemployment in all parts of the country began to rise, ACS held a virtual career fair for young people in foster care over the age of 18. Nearly 300 people participated, and many applied and were ultimately hired for positions in the health care and professional services industries, paid internships and vocational opportunities. Now more than ever, those opportunities have been critical.

No city or state across the U.S. should allow a young person to leave foster care, at any age, unless they have a stable and supportive living arrangement. And, the federal government should step in to provide states and localities with their share of funding for these youth in care over age 21, particularly during the pandemic. As we continue to face a world full of uncertainty, and added challenges, let’s make sure our most vulnerable young people — those who have been in foster care — have the support they need for as long as they need it. And especially during this crisis, we encourage other jurisdictions to follow our model and implement policies assuring that no youth leaves foster care without a place to call home.

David A. Hansell is the commissioner for NYC Administration for Children’s Services.

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