Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper (D) signed two landmark bills into law this session related to improving outcomes for youth in the state’s foster care system.
As of June 1, through H.B. 18-1306, Colorado became the first state in the nation to dedicate millions of dollars specifically to the educational stability of students in foster care.
With the new law, Colorado is committing $2.8 million this fiscal year and $3.9 million the following year to ensure that foster youth have transportation to school. The funds will also be used to create a grant program and establish a permanent coordinator in the Colorado Department of Education to help schools better serve their students who are in foster care.
The Colorado law helps the state come into compliance with the federal Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA), which requires states to provide students in foster care with rides to their so-called “school-of-origin” – the school they attended at the time when they were taken into the state’s care.
A 2017 analysis by The Chronicle of Social Change found that at least 11 states were struggling to comply with ESSA’s transportation mandates, though the deadline to do so was Dec. 10, 2016. The Chronicle estimated that about 162,000 foster youth, or 37 percent of the nearly 440,000 in foster care nationally, are living in states where compliance is unclear.
Colorado had about 6,500 children and youth in foster care last year, and 55 percent of those foster youth changed schools at least once during the school year, according to the Colorado Department of Human Services (DHS).
A second bill signed by Hickenlooper, H.B. 18-1319, allows Colorado counties to extend certain services aimed at supporting the transition to adulthood for former foster youth ages 18 to 21. Colorado sees about 300 young people age out of foster care each year.
This includes help finding employment, housing assistance, financial management, mental health, education and substance abuse treatment. It does not fund continued foster care placements, although the state courts already retain the right to keep a youth in foster care until age 21. The new law does allow counties to assist youth with security deposits related to housing, if funds are available.
The bill also establishes a steering committee of former foster youth to help develop an implementation plan for these new transitional services. The bill sets aside $50,000 for the group to meet over the next few years.
There are only five states that have not extended foster care and support services beyond age 18: Delaware, New Mexico, Louisiana, Oklahoma and Rhode Island. Of the 45 states with extended care, 26 have done so with federal reimbursement through provisions added in the 2008 Fostering Connections to Success and Increasing Adoptions Act.