CWLA 2008 Children's Legislative Agenda
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- Pass the Foster Care Continuing Opportunities Act.
- Pass the Medicaid Foster Care Coverage Act.
- Expand eligibility and improve services to youth in the
child welfare system, or who were formerly in child
welfare, through the John H. Chafee Foster Care
Independence Program. Expand eligibility for independent
living services to age 24, including room and board.
Increase funding to at least $200 million to support
expansion of eligibility and services.
- Improve education opportunities for youth in foster care
by making improvements to the Education and Training
Voucher program. Increase funding for the voucher program
to at least $60 million and ensure all of the funds
are used for this purpose.
- Include provisions in the reauthorization of the No Child
Left Behind Act to enhance education supports for children
in foster care.
- Provide the necessary resources for implementing the
National Youth in Transition Database.
Federal support for independent living services for foster
youth began in 1986 when Title IV-E was amended to
include the Independent Living Program to assist youth
who would eventually be emancipated from foster care.
In 1993, Congress permanently extended the authority
for independent living. Significant improvements were
enacted in 1999 with passage of the John H. Chafee
Foster Care Independence Program, in honor of the Rhode
Island senator who was one of the law's sponsors and
who died before it was enacted. The law allows states
to extend Medicaid coverage to former foster children
between 18 and 21 years old, and funding was doubled to
$140 million per year, which became effective in 2001. Also
in 2001, Congress authorized an additional $60 million in
discretionary funds for education and training vouchers for
youth who are eligible for the Foster Care Independence
Program, as well as youth who are adopted from foster care
after reaching age 16.
Foster Care Continuing Opportunities Act
Senator Barbara Boxer (D-CA) introduced the Foster Care
Continuing Opportunities Act (S. 1512) on May 24, 2007.
This legislation would extend Title IV-E foster care funding
to age 21.
In 2005, 24,211 young people left foster care simply
because they became too old. This is referred to as aging-out
of foster care. Many young people transitioning out of
the foster care system face great instability once finding
themselves on their own, with few, if any, financial resources,
no place to live, and little or no support from family, friends,
and community. The experiences of these youth place them
at higher risk for unemployment, poor educational outcomes,
health issues, early parenthood, long-term dependency
on public assistance, increased rates of incarceration,
This legislation would simply amend the current law that
defines foster children to age 18. States would have an
option to extend this to age 21. Under current law, limited
funds are available under the John H. Chafee Foster Care
Independence Program (see below).
Medicaid Foster Care Coverage Act
Rep. Dennis Cardoza (D-CA) introduced the Medicaid
Foster Care Coverage Act (H.R. 1376) on March 7, 2007.
This legislation amends title XIX of the Social Security Act
to establish independent foster care adolescents as a
mandatory category of individuals for coverage under state
For young people leaving foster care, lack of health care
poses a substantial challenge. The Chafee Program allows
states to extend Medicaid coverage to former foster children
between ages 18 and 21. Despite Medicaid's tremendous
advantage for youth in foster care, only 17 states had
implemented the extension by early 2007.
Given the high rates of physical and mental health problems
extensively documented among children and youth in foster
care, access to health services is a critical factor as young people
transition to adulthood. Because most children and youth in
foster care are covered by Medicaid, use of the expansion option
would allow a state to readily facilitate the transfer of a youth's
Medicaid eligibility from one category to another without any
gap in coverage as they exit foster care. Medicaid coverage
should continue for all foster youth until at least age 21.
Keeping medical records up to date and accessible is
another challenge for young people involved with child welfare.
Advances have been made in electronic record keeping,
but more are needed.
John H. Chafee Foster Care Independence Program
The John H. Chafee Foster Care Independence Program
helps states provide services to young people who are likely
to remain in foster care until age 18, as well as former foster
children beyond age 18. The program helps eligible children
make the transition to self-sufficiency through such
services as assistance in earning a high school diploma,
support in career exploration, vocational training, job placement
and retention, and training in daily living skills. In
addition to the Medicaid coverage, the program allows up to
30% of the funds be used for room and board. Chafee is a
capped entitlement with an annual ceiling of $140 million,
which has not been increased since 2001.
Adolescents constitute a major segment of the youngsters
the child welfare system serves. Most youth enter outof-
home care as a result of abuse, neglect, and exploitation.
Others have run away from home or have no home. Young
people transitioning out of the foster care system are significantly
affected by the instability that accompanies
long periods of out-of-home placement during childhood
The resulting harm to the youth themselves, their communities,
and the society at large is unacceptably high. To
reduce these outcomes, outreach to youth and the quality of
services provided need to be improved. In addition, expanding
eligibility for critical support for young people leaving
foster care will ensure a successful transition to independence
and self-sufficiency, and reduce the numbers of young
people who become homeless, unemployed, incarcerated,
and/or at high risk of becoming victims and victimizers. To
accomplish this improvement and expansion, funding for the
Chafee Foster Care Independence Program needs to be
Reauthorizing the Title X, Part C of the No Child Left Behind
(NCLB) McKinney-Vento Homeless Assistance Act
(McKinney-Vento) is an opportunity to improve education
outcomes for children and youth in foster care. McKinney-
Vento provides access to essential federal education protections
and rights for homeless children and youth. Children
and youth who are eligible for McKinney-Vento have access
to supports for school success that many children involved
in child welfare lack: school stability or immediate enrollment
if stability is not possible, school staff charged with
ensuring their prompt enrollment, and more. While these
protections currently apply to a subset of children involved
in foster care, including those "awaiting foster care placement,"
states have defined this phrase differently. States
vary widely in their application of these protections for this
population. As a result, the opportunities for children and
youth in foster care may depend on where they live. The
reauthorization of McKinney-Vento provides an opportunity
to ensure these protections are available to all children in
foster care, with special accommodation for the needs and
family dynamics that face children in foster care.
The Education and Training Voucher (ETV) program provides
assistance of up to $5,000 per year for the cost of
attendance at an institution of higher education for youth who
age out of foster care or are adopted after age 16. Funding
for this program has never reached the amount requested by
President Bush-$60 million-which itself is not enough to
meet the need. The ETV program began receiving funds in
2003 and was set at $42 million. In 2005, funding increased
to $46.6 million; however, for FY 2008, funds were reduced
to $45.3 million. Funding for the ETV program should be
expanded to at least the level proposed by the President.
Further improvements to the ETV program are needed,
including adjusting eligibility to include youth adopted after
age 14, and requiring technical assistance for states to
ensure funds are fully utilized. Also, instead of being
returned to the federal treasury, unused state ETV funds
should be transferred to other states' ETV programs with
demonstrated unmet need.
National Youth In Transition Database
Congress should provide the resources necessary for implementation
of the National Youth in Transition Database. This
new initiative is a tremendous opportunity to provide valuable
information that will inform future improvements in
services to young people. The funds for implementation
should be a priority for Congress and not come at the
expense of existing services or supports or reduced services
to adolescents receiving Chafee and ETV funding.
- In 2005, 24,211 children aged-out of out-of-home care. 1, 2
- A study of young adults who had spent a year or more in
foster care between age 14 and 18 found that 25% had
experienced post-traumatic stress, compared to 4% of
the general adult population. 3
- Three in 10 of the nation's homeless adults report foster
care history. 4
- A recent study found that one-third of older youth in
foster care were identified by caseworkers as having
one or more special mental health, medical, pregnancy
and parenting, substance abuse, or developmental
needs that significantly interfered with their ability to
live independently. 5
- In Clark County, Nevada, 55% of former foster youth
reported not having health insurance after leaving
foster care. 6
- Forty-four percent of former foster youth in Wisconsin
reported difficulty accessing health and mental health
- The rate at which foster youth complete high school
(50%) is significantly below the rate of their peers
(70%), and the rate at which college-qualified foster
youth attend postsecondary education (20%) is
substantially below the rate of their peers (60%). 8
- The Census Bureau reports college graduates make $23,000
more per year than those with high school diplomas. 9
- Children who aged out of foster care are captured by the Adoption and Foster Care Analysis Reporting System (AFCARS) emancipation data element. Children who exit care to emancipation are those who reached the age of majority. back
- Child Welfare League of America. (2006). Special tabulation of the AFCARS data. Washington, DC: Author. back
- Pecora, P., Kessler, R., Williams, J. (2005). Improving family foster care: Findings from the Northwest Foster Care Alumni Study. Available online. Seattle, WA: Casey Family Programs. back
- Roman, N.P., & Wolfe, N. (1995). Web of failure: The relationship between foster care and homelessness. Washington, DC: National Alliance to End Homelessness. back
- Leathers, S.J., & Testa, M.F. (2006). Foster youth emancipating from care: Caseworkers' reports on needs and services. Child Welfare, 85(3), 477-478. back
- Reilly, T. (2003). Transitions from care: Status and outcomes of youth who age out of foster care. Child Welfare, 82(6), 727-746. back
- Courtney, M., & Piliavin, I. (1998). Foster youth transitions to adulthood: Outcomes 12 to 18 months after leaving out-of-home care. Madison, WI: University of Wisconsin. back
- Wolanin, T. (2005). Higher education opportunities for foster youth: A primer for policymakers. Washington, DC: Institute for Higher Education Policy. back
- U.S. Census Bureau. (2006). Census Bureau data underscore value of college. Available online. Washington, DC: Author. back
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