On Thursday, June 6, the Senate Focus Youth Caucus and Jim Casey Youth Opportunities Initiative (JCYOI) of the Annie E. Casey Foundation sponsored the congressional briefing “Chafee Plus 20” to examine the role the Chafee program has had in supporting better outcomes for youth and facilitate discussion about what how policy can continue to recommend improvements.

Chairman Danny Davis (D-IL) of the Subcommittee on Worker and Family Support opened the session and remarked that foster youth are the experts of the child welfare system. He emphasized that through his engagement with shadow day interns and young people with lived experience how important it is to improve federal legislation and change it to make it better. The purpose of Chafee is to help foster youth transition to adulthood. It can help provide access to college, and other basics such as food and their driver’s license. The Congressman said he is working on introducing legislation to help young people have access to the Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC) and bills aimed at incentive tax credit for businesses that hire foster youth.

The first panel consisted of researchers and national experts on Chafee including Adrienne Fernandes-Alcantara from Congressional Research Service, Mark Courtney from the University of Chicago, Catherine Heath from the Children’s Bureau, and Amy Salazar from Washington State University. It was moderated by Todd Lloyd from Jim Casey Youth Opportunities Initiative. The second panel consisted of representatives from state and local program leaders from New Mexico, Indiana, and Virginia: Joshua and Christian from Indiana, Allison Gilbreath from Voices for Virginia’s Children, Ezra Pitzer and Micaela Baca from New Mexico.

In 1999, Congress enacted the John H Chaffee Foster Care Independence Act to address the troubling statistics related to young people aging out of foster care. Senators John H. Chafee and Jay Rockefeller worked across the aisle to expand federal support for independent living and transition services for older youth. Laurie Rubiner, who worked for Senator Chafee provided the historical reference of how the voice of young people made the difference for getting the legislation passed. Catherine emphasized that the purpose of Chafee was that young people did not have to choose between services and supports.

Adrienne discussed the 20-year timeline of the Chafee Act expectations and the purposes behind the changes to strengthening the legislation. Five federal legislation have made critical changes to Chafee program including provisions related to the eligibility, where 25 states, the District of Columbia, and 9 tribes have extended the ages of services from 17 to 23 years of age, shift to independence, increase in funding to $143 million, and changes to the Education and Training Vouchers (ETV). Mark presented on “the legacy of powerful evidence” and looked at the accountability provisions of Chafee. He acknowledged that the Midwest Study helped build the case for the extension of foster care in the Fostering Connections Act in 2008 based on the outcomes of the young people at the critical ages of 17, 19, and 21.

Many states, including Indiana, Virginia, and New Mexico have extended foster care to provide healthcare access, postsecondary support, and employment opportunities for young people aging out of the child welfare system. Christian recommended that all children and youth should receive tutoring services because it was a barrier when he got into college, and he was on a remedial reading level. The extension of care services allowed him to access support to help with his college English course like the state level tax credit for employers in New Mexico helped Micaela get a job at 21 years of age when she lacked traditional training as a young mom entering the workforce. Amy mentioned how the Family First Act extension of independent living services to age 23 is a step in the right direction but there are additional areas of improvements, such as expanding services to age 26 aligned with adolescent brain science research and Medicaid provisions, strengthening the National Youth in Transition Database, and expanding the evidence base work for independent living services. There are still opportunities for improvement and CWLA will be working with members of Congress to ensure that older youth in foster care have the support and services they need to transition to adulthood and beyond.