The CLWA recommends Congress extend foster care to age 21 so that every young person in foster care will have an option to stay in care, resulting in improved education, housing, and employment outcomes.
In 2008, Congress passed the Fostering Connections to Success and Increasing Adoptions Act (PL 110-351). That law gave states the option to extend foster care up to the age of 21. In the states that extend care to the age 21, young people have the option to stay in foster care if they choose. The pandemic revealed systemic, legal, and safety challenges for this population of youth. Congress passed legislation in the Consolidated Appropriations Act (P.L. 116-260) in December 2020, prohibiting states from terminating foster care placement and services due to reaching age of majority.
Society has changed since we first directed federal foster care funding to the age of 18 in 1980. Immediate marriage, enrollment, or being drafted into the military have all changed. Foster youth today do not have the same family, societal, and financial support and guidance their non-foster care peers have. Federal data tells us that when young people continue to age 21 in foster care compared to youth in foster care that “age out,” youth in care have better outcomes. The National Academies report recommends that “to better promote resilience and positive outcomes for adolescents involved in the child welfare system, all states should adopt the existing federal option to provide extended care to youth until age 21 and Chafee services to age 23 and provide comprehensive aftercare support to youth as they transition out of the child welfare system.” After what was learned in 2020 and the response to provide additional support to young adults, Congress should make that a reality.
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