In response to the challenges posed by the COVID-19 pandemic, child welfare agencies across the nation are working to fill the gaps in services and support for young people ages 16-24 who are currently in foster care or are positioned to transition out of the child welfare system. These transition age youth (TAY) already face significant barriers transitioning into adulthood without permanent life supports or connections, and this unprecedented crisis will only exacerbate these barriers. Youth in and aging out of the foster care system depend on child welfare agencies for these supports. Policy makers at the federal, state, and local levels must ensure these young people are not an afterthought in their COVID-19 responses.
One way to do this is by including young people with lived experience in the foster care system when asking for policy recommendations. Associate Commissioner Jerry Milner heard from older foster youth from across the nation who were directly impacted by COVID-19 and among the top needs that came from more than 1,400 youth responses to the Virtual Youth Town Hall hosted by Think of Us were food, housing, child care, access to technology and healthcare.
State Actions to Support Transition Age Youth
While agencies rely on guidance from the Children’s Bureau for issues related to federal requirements, there are a number of things that states have the ability to do now to mitigate the burden placed on these youth.
Extending Foster Care and Services
- Issue a moratorium on discharge of youth from extended care to allow all youth to remain in care with support services during this national emergency. Research shows outcomes are better for youth who remain in care until age 21, and the 2008 Fostering Connections Act allows states to receive federal funding for extended care through age 21.
- Allow youth over age 18 to re-enter extended foster care programs as quickly as possible.
- States that have IV-E extended foster care to age 21 may extend Chafee services to age 23.
- Promote Medicaid enrollment for all foster/former foster youth through age 26 to ensure healthcare coverage parity with youth living at home with their parents. In addition to general enrollment for youth in their home jurisdiction, states now have the option to cover youth who have transferred from other states. Agencies must be proactive in educating youth in care on the serious health risks of COVID-19 and ensure that each young person has access to testing and treatment.
- Ensure child welfare agencies are contacting youth to assist with housing and shelter needs while college campuses are shut down. For more information, read the Children’s Bureau letter.
Reducing Economic Hardship
- Ensure TAY have continued access to nutritional supports via the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) by decreasing enrollment barriers such as face-to-face interviews and by ensuring TAY are categorically exempt from work requirements and time limits under the “Able Bodied Adult Without Dependents” (ABAWD) category.
- Create a COVID-19 emergency financial relief fund for displaced youth. The recently passed CARES Act provided $14 billion for Institutions of Higher Education and mandated that no less than half of this funding must be provided for aid to students with expenses related to coronavirus disruptions. State agencies must ensure that colleges and universities are prioritizing and issuing grants to foster youth as quickly as possible.
- Agencies must be proactive in reaching out to youth to educate them on issues related to unemployment insurance and potential eligibility for stimulus checks and keep them connected to services and resources they need by providing cellphones using IV-E funds.