21, 23, or 26? Rethinking Eligibility for Youth Who Have Aged Out of Foster Care

Good health is really important. That is why we all need access to health care we can afford. Regardless of our age. Up until January 2014, foster youth over the age of 18 did not have that access. It was at that time that the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act required states to provide Medicaid coverage for foster youth until they turned 26, as long as they were in foster care and receiving Medicaid at age 18. This was a huge step forward.

Photo of Isabel Soto

As a biological sister to siblings who aged out of foster care, I know all too well that eighteen is too young an age for many youth and young adults to be without financial, social, and emotional support. Having been adopted, I, like many youth, was not suddenly expected to be fully independent and entirely self-reliant the day I turned eighteen.
– Isabel Soto

Still, foster youth need more. The needs of foster youth are no different than the needs of other youth or young adults. We should make sure youth who age out of foster care can access the same services and supports our own young adult children can until they are stable and on their feet. In fact, data show that a growing number of young adults are living with their parents well into their thirties. And, recent U.S. Census data show that 18- to 34-year olds are less likely to be living on their own today than they were during the Great Recession.

Parents of young adults make sure their kids have continued care and support as they mature, pursue a higher education, or test the job market in search of their first or that next better paying job. So why aren’t we ensuring the same for foster youth or youth who have aged out of the foster care system? This makes no sense.

The good news is that several states are thinking about this and are taking steps to extend benefits and services, other than health care, beyond age 18. Today, almost every state has extended benefits to foster youth past the age of 18 and up to age 21 with federal Title IV-E funding. However, not all states are alike in the way they treat this issue. Two states have extended foster care services for youth up to age 19, two states to age 20, forty-two states to age 21, one state to age 21 ½, two states to age 22, and one state to age 23. These differences are causing some new challenges. Medicaid coverage, for example, is not transportable for many young people who move out of state and we know very little about the number of states that offer coverage to out-of-state youths today. Again, these differences in access make no sense.

Over the last couple of years, our colleagues at the Department of Health and Human Services and our team have had quite a few opportunities to talk with and listen to both current and former foster youth. We heard their stories. We learned about their dreams. We learned about the many obstacles standing in the way of them achieving those dreams. From these conversations, we have concluded that these are reasonable next steps to ensure improved career and life trajectories for foster youth:

  • Youth in transition from foster care are often left to navigate their instantaneous life as independents alone. Policies and programs designed to assist this population accomplish little to nothing if foster youth do not know such services are available. For this reason, it is critical to first ensure that current and former foster youth are made aware of and able to access the resources available to them.
  • It is essential to have child welfare and education related staff and relevant community partners trained to help youth gain access to available supports that will help them transition to independent living.” Further, it is important that they know how to help youth access and maintain safe and stable housing, transportation, financial resources, and access to postsecondary education and career opportunities.

States are the entities deciding whether to extend benefits to foster care services for youth to 21, 23, and beyond. States are the entities that will decide to offer coverage to out-of-state youths. We realize it may take states some time to get there. The important thing is that we continue to work together at the national, state, local, and tribal levels to extend services for these youth well into their twenties and to ensure all services are transportable from state to state.

There are approximately 20,000-25,000 youth who emancipate every year. These young adults face more obstacles as they transition to adulthood such as homelessness, unemployment, difficulty accessing postsecondary education, and financial instability. This does not have to and should not be the case.

Johan E. Uvin is the Deputy Assistant Secretary (delegated the duties of Assistant Secretary) for Career, Technical and Adult Education at the U.S. Department of Education

Isabel Soto is a former foster youth and Confidential Assistant in the Office of Career, Technical, and Adult Education at the U.S. Department of Education

Photo of Johan Uvin
Posted by
Deputy Assistant Secretary, OCTAE
Photo of Isabel Soto
Posted by
Confidential Assistant, OCTAE

After Finals, Foster Youth Students Face a Much More Difficult Test

As winter break unwinds and college students are at home for the holidays, many homeless and foster care students find themselves scrambling for somewhere to live until classes resume in January. College campuses traditionally close down for winter break. For these vulnerable students their college campus is their home, their community and a primary source of security. While their peers are headed home to see family and catch up with old friends, many of these young people are faced with bleak prospects for the holiday season.

These vulnerable youth face the same struggles as other young people trying to maintain good grades, navigating social peer groups, and planning their futures, but they face the additional burdens associated with little to no adult guidance or support. Fortunately, higher education professionals across our nation have begun to tackle the unique issues faced by homeless and foster care students. They are developing comprehensive strategies to address the most persistent barriers these students face; not just during the holiday season, but all year long.

“Higher education can be the silver bullet to achieving long-term health, housing, and economic security. And for young people who have already overcome so much adversity just to earn a seat in a college classroom, they should have every opportunity—inside and outside of the classroom—to succeed” says Jasmine Hayes, Policy Director for the United States Interagency Council on Homelessness. “Ensuring these youth have a safe, stable place to call home in-between semesters is critical. Keeping student housing open and available for youth experiencing homelessness during semester breaks is an effective approach.”

Programs in states like Colorado and North Carolina have implemented Single Points of Contact (SPOCs) in their postsecondary institutions which provide these students access to designated college administrators who are committed to helping them to successfully navigate the college-going process. States and higher education institutions across the country are also working to address the issues these students face, including

  • access to higher education opportunities and financial support;
  • navigation of the college-going process, including financial aid and service referral processes; and
  • basic needs like employment, housing and food.

These efforts are ensuring these most vulnerable students reach their highest potential.

Colleges can play a pivotal role in supporting the academic success of these students. Just ask for foster youth, Alain Datcher. “Entering college as a first time student was a daunting experience. It was a mixture of culture shock, academic rigor and rapid growth. I don’t believe I would have succeeded without the support network I had in one woman – Tamara Malone. She was a mentor, academic advisor, dean and more in one caring, compassionate woman.” When asked how he thought his experience could translate for other students who are homeless or in foster care he replied, “Proximity will define opportunity for these young people. Having a close, approachable, and tangible support network will make the difference. It did in my college education at Biola University. I’ll be earning a Master’s of Public Policy degree in April. Having one caring, single point of contact in Tamra is a big reason why I will.”

When educators act, they change lives. If you know of a foster youth student in your institution, be proactive and reach out. It can make all the difference. Find out more at http://findyouthinfo.gov/.

Guest bloggers: Annie Blackledge, Casey Family Programs Senior Fellow with the U.S. Department of Education, and Johan Uvin, Acting Assistant Secretary for OCTAE.

ED Working to Reduce Barriers to Postsecondary Access and Persistence for Students from Foster Care

Late last week, Assistant Secretary Brenda Dann-Messier issued a “Dear Colleague letter” to Financial Aid Administrators. This letter clarifies that extended foster care payments made by a state directly to foster youth are to be excluded when determining a student’s student aid eligibility and do not need to be reported on the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA).  “Our intent is to reduce barriers in the financial aid process for students in foster care to ensure they are able to maximize their student aid benefits”, said Assistant Secretary Dann-Messier. “We know these students face many challenges as they transition into adulthood—and the financial aid process should not be one of them.”

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