On Tuesday, March 31, FosterClub announced the #UPChafee Challenge to bring awareness to the importance of an increase in support for foster youth during the COVID-19 pandemic. To ensure the message is heard, FosterClub asked young people with lived experience in foster care to contact their Members of Congress and share why it is so important for Congress to support foster youth in transition and increase the support available in this dire time.

The FosterClub Policy Team led the announcement: Dominique Freeman, Jalisa Sewell, and Foster Club’s Policy Manager Angel Petite. The FosterClub Policy Team gave an overview of Chafee, why Chafee funds are essential to foster youth and alumni, what is being heard on the ground from young people, the importance of elevating youth voices, and how to get involved with the call to action. The team also gave a detailed presentation on how to take action through participation in their #UPChafee Challenge.

The John H. Chafee Program is the federal foster care funding provided to states, territories, and Indian tribes to support current and former foster youth. States use Chafee funding to provide educational assistance, career exploration, mentoring, and youth development activities such as training in independent living skills, budgeting and financial management skills, and preventative health activities. The Chafee funding is used for room and board and food for youth who attend institutions of higher education. The team proceeded to address the importance of Chafee funding during the COVID-19 crisis.

Chafee funding was already stretched thin before the COVID-19 pandemic and is important during the COVID-19 crisis because of the direct and immediate support it can provide to youth who do not have the financial resources or family support to survive this uncertain time. Chafee funds can be used to prevent homelessness, food insecurity, and financial hardship. An increase in Chafee funds can be used to respond to the needs of youth by providing funds for emergency housing, ensuring youth have the technology they need to continue their education virtually, and providing youth with funds for basic needs such as food, water, and housing supplies. It can also be used to address the needs of youth who have aged out of foster care.

The current crisis leaves foster youth more vulnerable than before because, unlike many Americans, they do not have the familial support to turn to during this unprecedented time. The FosterClub policy team also conducted a survey to gain an understanding of how young people are affected by this crisis. Based on the information gathered:

• 27.6 percent of youth described their home as having a food crisis or being very low on food;
• 39.6 percent indicated they had been forced to move or in fear of being forced to move;
• 22.6 percent said they wished they had connections with more people to help them through this crisis;
• 14.3 percent indicated they were on their own; and
• 27.1 percent indicated that they were laid off because of the crisis.

The #UPChafee Challenge is imperative because many Members of Congress are not hearing about the impact of the COVID-19 crisis on foster youth. We need to make sure that Members of Congress hear that young people in foster care need to be prioritized along with other vulnerable populations. Now is the time to start making noise to ensure the needs of young people are heard and addressed. Speaking out now is necessary to ensure that foster youth’s needs are addressed in the next stimulus package.

FosterClub is challenging youth to take daily action in the #UPChafee Challenge by reaching out to their Members of Congress through email or social media. The challenge began on Wednesday, April 1, and ends Friday, April 10. Youth who accept this challenge are asked to share which actions they took by completing the form at https://www.fosterclub.com/upchafee. Logging activity will enter each youth into a daily drawing, where they have a chance to win a $25 gift card or a $100 gift card. The more actions youth takes, the more times they will be entered into the drawing, increasing their chance of winning a gift card.

During the challenge, youth are instructed to ask their members of Congress to increase Chafee funding by $500 million to provide emergency support and services to bridge gaps in food, housing, employment, transportation, education, and mental health services. This can be done in one of three ways.

1. TWEET. Youth are asked to send a tweet to each of their Congress members and to be sure to use #SupportFosterYouth, #ChildWelfareCOVID, #UPChafee.

1. FACEBOOK. Each participant is to tag their member of Congress to ensure their message is seen. Each participant is also asked to use the hashtags #SupportFosterYouth, #ChildWelfareCOVID, #UPChafee.

1. EMAIL or SEND A MESSAGE. Sending an email may be the best way to contact Congress members at this time because most are working remotely.

All youth and youth groups/organizations are encouraged to share the #UPChafee Challenge with their network. Foster youth must receive the support they need during such a critical time. To access message templates, graphics, and tools, please visit www.fosterclub.org/upchafee.