The COVID-19 pandemic has been devastating for youth in extended foster care and those who have recently aged out of the foster care system. Across the country, these youth are losing their jobs and their homes and facing serious food and economic insecurity without the support of family.
Black youth are especially impacted, as they are far more likely to be in the system as teenagers or young adults than their white peers—more than three times as likely in nearly half of all states. They age out of the system at a rate that is 10 percent higher than white youth. In the years after aging out, Black youth are less likely to be connected to adults, more likely to face homelessness and more likely to have been incarcerated than their white peers.
To date, Congress has failed to provide older youth from foster care with relief. Surveys show that the majority of these youth who have lost jobs have not received the increased unemployment insurance provided in the CARES Act and most have not received stimulus payments. Still, there have been no federal funds dedicated to meet their pressing needs. CDF, and our other child welfare partners, urge Congress to provide $500 million in emergency funding to the John H. Chafee Program for Successful Transition to Adulthood to help stabilize these youth.
The Chafee program provides a collection of services delivered concurrently to prepare youth for life after foster care. In addition, Chafee funds can be used for immediate needs, including housing, food support, and cash assistance. For more than two decades, the Chafee program has successfully targeted services for these youth and is the best vehicle to reach them quickly and efficiently.
To most effectively meet the needs of transition-age youth, the majority of these funds should be dedicated to direct cash assistance, which would ensure these emergency funds directly impact the unique and varied needs of these youth. This should take the form of $500 per month for at least six months to ensure that they have the necessary supports to make it through the pandemic. The remaining funds should be used to supplement the Chafee program’s ability to meet the wide array of other immediate needs of youth during this crisis.
Additionally, it is important that Congress suspend certain eligibility requirements for youth who are in foster care between the ages of 18-21 (often referred to as “extended foster care”) and place a moratorium on discharges from the foster care system for these older youth. No youth should be pushed out of care during a pandemic simply because they reached their birthday or because they are unable to work or attend school because of closing caused by COVID.
Finally, the pandemic makes it clear that we must rethink the whole system of preparing youth in foster care for adulthood. Youth never should have been as vulnerable as they were when this pandemic began. We must rethink our services for older youth so that all transition-age youth are provided the skills, resources, and connections they need to be safe and successful in adulthood. These reforms, and any future child welfare reforms, must also work to deconstruct the systemic racism inherent in the child welfare system, which leads youth of color to disproportionately worse outcomes.
For more information on our proposal for COVID relief for transition-age youth, download our fact sheet here.