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Taking action now so no young person is left behind in this pandemic

By Shereen Arthur White, staff attorney

Young people in and aging out of foster care have been hit hard by COVID-19. Under normal circumstances, these youth already face incredible odds, but under a pandemic, their chances of becoming unemployed, struggle to access food or other basics, or to become homeless increase exponentially.

Due to the difficulties and trauma foster youth often experience in the system, these young people already face severe disadvantages in terms of their economic prospects and life outcomes when they inevitably age out of state support.

–Sandy Santana, Executive Director for Children’s Rights writes in an opinion piece for The Hill.

Advocating for Young People

During the pandemic, Children’s Rights has successfully advocated across Connecticut, Michigan, Rhode Island, and South Carolina, urging moratoriums on aging out to support youth during these unprecedented times. These victories guarantee extended foster care, housing, and services for all kids over the age of 18. In Connecticut, our strong relationship with the Department of Children and Families (DCF) led to a quick response in instituting this best practice during the crisis, along with removing children from juvenile justice facilities.

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Five other states have joined the movement to extend these crucial protections to young people, however; several of those orders have expired or are set to expire soon. Recent bills were introduced in New York and California to pause aging out. Earlier last week, California saw some progress on bill 912 which was introduced by Senator Jim Beall back in January. This bill includes $32 million for youth in foster care who turn 21 between April 17 – through June 30, 2021. 

While some movement has been seen at the state-level, the scope of the problem and need to reach youth in every state requires federal action. Advocates have been pushing for Congress to provide provisions in their COVID-19 relief bills to support young people during the crisis including increasing Chafee Funding by $500 million and preventing youth from aging out. In May we joined over 110 organizations and 650 youth in care, parents, and advocates calling for Congress to provide these crucial supports. Nationwide, advocates and policymakers supporting older youth in foster care are urging our state and federal governments to take immediate action. 

“There’s no excuse to be pushed out of your home in this challenging time without the safety net you’re used to or any resources to turn to.”

–Assemblymember Didi Barrett 

Youth Need Us Now

Researchers out of Indiana University found that those ages 20 to 24 are suffering the highest rates of job losses during the COVID-19 crisis. Another study in early May of 613 young people currently or formerly in foster care demonstrated that many continue to experience alarming levels of need and instability, finding:

  • 65% of the 18-to 24-year old polled have lost work, hours, or been laid off because of the pandemic;
  • More than 50% are having challenges with food security;
  • Only 37% said they can rely on family members during the crisis.

While the CARES Act Provider Relief Fund aims to support “American families, workers, and the heroic healthcare providers in the battle against the COVID-19 outbreak,” none of the funding seems to directly support older youth. Most youths from foster care are ineligible for unemployment and the stimulus checks most Americans have counted on. Without the financial and social safety nets, many of their peers enjoy, young adults who must leave the protection of the foster care system are falling between the cracks. Marginalized youth suffer these problems at an even greater rate. Black youth are disproportionately represented in our foster care system, and unfortunately, we are seeing disproportionate numbers of Black people becoming unemployed and contracting the coronavirus. LGBTQ+ youth are at higher risk of additional harm, including discrimination, institutionalization, and even abuse within the system. They are also more likely to age out without achieving permanency. 

We spoke with several LGBTQ+ young people currently or formerly in foster care and young people currently or formerly experiencing homelessness for our recently released report, Fostering Inequity: How COVID-19 Amplifies Dangers for LGBTQ+ Youth In Care.

So many of our jobs—if we still have them—are in places like restaurants, bars, or other places that are cramped. They’re all places where it will be easier to get COVID-19. People in my community are scared because of this. My friend does drag, and they’re not able to make much money from that anymore. But, they’re going to do a show this weekend despite the risk because they need to make money.

Jessie
Fostering Inequity: How COVID-19 Amplifies Dangers for LGBTQ+ Youth in Care Report

Nationwide, approximately 1,400 youth in foster care “age out” on their own each month and face an uncertain future if discharged during this public health crisis. With thousands of youth in the foster care system set to age out of the system each month, action is needed now to ensure their support systems remain in place.

Without family to turn to, young people should have access to support and services so they can make it through this crisis healthy and ready to thrive. Join Children’s Rights and other national advocates and ask your representatives to support older youth and prevent aging out during this crisis.

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