On June 22, 2022, Representative Judy Chu (D-CA) introduced the Access to Foster Care to 21 Act, which would extend nationally the age of which a youth is eligible to remain in foster care to 21. This bill would provide financial assistance to states by de-linking youth ages 18-21 from the antiquated Aid to Families with Dependent Children (AFDC) requirements, ensuring states receive federal IV-E reimbursement. Additionally, it would also ensure youth who voluntarily leave care at 18 have the right to re-enter care should they need to.

This bill will build on the progress made in states that already extend care to age 21.

Society has changed since we first directed federal foster care to age 18 in 1980 – traditional paths to adulthood no longer include finding a full-time job shortly after high school and retaining that job for years, building stability and security. Immediate marriage, enrollment, or being drafted into the military have changed as well. Young people frequently live at home and rely on the support of their families well past high school; we must ensure that young people in foster care have access to similar supports as they transition to adulthood and independence.

Federal data tells us that compared to youth that “age out” of care at age 18, youth who remain in care have better outcomes across multiple measures, such as employment, housing, school attendance and graduation, and health coverage. This legislation would give all young people the option to remain in care, allowing them to achieve such improved outcomes, while still allowing states the flexibility to design tailored programs to meet the needs of the young people they serve.

“We have given states the ability for 14 years to do what is best for our young adults in foster care — now, it is time to extend this option to the youth themselves,” Representative Chu said in the press release. “I believe it is our responsibility to follow the research and ensure all our foster youth have the same opportunities regardless of where they live. The Access to Foster Care to 21 Act will allow these young adults to have agency over their care decisions and feel comfortable exploring their freedom without permanently giving up supportive services.”

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