Sixto Cancel, Founder and CEO of Think of Us, hosted a webinar with the Associate Commissioner of the Children’s Bureau, Dr. Jerry Milner, Chris Patterson from the Department of Housing and Development, and Ruth White from the National Center for Housing and Child Welfare (NCHCW). Sixto and Patterson both were former foster youth who aged out of the system, and White works very directly with foster youth on housing issues.

Milner answered several questions about how the Children’s Bureau is responding to recommendations to help older foster youth. He alluded to national organizations and other advocates providing him with recommendations such as extending federal requirements for youth to stay in extended foster care, suspending meeting requirements such as school enrollment, and job hours impossible for youth whose schools were closed and lost their jobs during the COVID-19 pandemic. In response, Milner stated that he is looking at where the Children’s Bureau authority lies or if legislative action is needed.

Sixto asked, “how do we stop youth from aging out during this time, especially since most states have a shelter-in-place protocol?” Milner replied that this crisis highlights the ongoing problem that we have known for years. He answered that until as a society, we believe that youth shouldn’t age out without permanency, without relationships and families, then the issue of aging out won’t be solved. He highlighted how California and Rhode Island announced that no youth would age out of foster care.

Alex, a former foster youth from Kansas, asked how the child welfare system can meet young people’s basic needs. Milner responded that he provided guidance to states to contact all young people in college and universities to check on them and that he is following up with all states on their response. He remarked that many child welfare agencies are going above and beyond to be responsive and innovative. Another question in regards to the flexibility of Chafee funds was asked. Milner stated that Chafee has always been used to address the fundamental needs of youth; however, Milner forewarns that the needs of youth will outpace the amount of Chafee funds. White remarked that states could use the funds for “whatever the youth need like cash assistance and rental assistance.” Milner also shared that for states who are seeking approval to extend foster care, the Children’s Bureau will not hold that process up. He stated that “it’s a simple process,” for states to extend foster care to 21.

Delrisha, a former foster youth from California, inquired about how older youth could stay in contact with their younger siblings during this pandemic. Milner encourages the use of technology to maintain virtual visits at this time and emphasized that face to face contact is an issue for child welfare services in general. Jasmine, a youth from New York, inquired about if foster youth would qualify for the economic payments in the stimulus package. Milner stated the simple answer is yes but that a response page for youth was developed at youth.GOV with more detailed information.

White highlighted the Fostering Stable Housing Opportunities Act, which gives preference for housing vouchers to youth transitioning out of foster care. Patterson talked further on HUD’s housing vouchers, and that foster youth are not forgotten. The HUD’s Foster Youth to Independence Initiative gives housing vouchers specifically to foster youth under 25 who have left foster care and would be homeless without a voucher. Milner shared that the Children’s Bureau is working on hosting ten regional town halls with young people. For more information and to watch the recording, you can visit the Command Center at Think of Us.