Should we favor young people at 21? This week’s cut to pandemic relief money raises question again

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When she turned 21 in June, Taylor Campbell would normally have been kicked out of the foster care system. As a young adult living independently, she received $ 810 per month from a program which helps support young people after leaving foster homes.

But as part of its emergency response to the pandemic, the federal government last year called on states to continue providing benefits to those who would otherwise age out of “extended foster family»Programs for young adults. Washington used federal pandemic relief money to do so.

On Thursday, the moratorium on aging is set to expire, cutting payments to about 320 people in Washington and 20,000 nationwide, unless the federal or state government steps in.

Without this support, Campbell, who pays $ 1,200 a month in rent, said, “I couldn’t survive. I would be homeless. Working 25 hours a week at a restaurant in Pierce County, she said her earnings had fallen by about a third as the pandemic took customers away.

Advocates for youth in foster care, fearing others will become homeless, are also pushing Congress to take action to extend the moratorium and have pleaded with Gov. Jay Inslee and the Children’s Ministry, youth and families to continue payments even in the absence of federal action.

“We know the pandemic is resurfacing,” said Liz Trautman, director of public policy and advocacy for the Mockingbird Society, which works on behalf of foster children and those at risk of homelessness. She and others say it has hit young people hard, especially those without a support system.

Dawn Rains, head of policy and strategy for Treehouse, a nonprofit that helps current and former foster youth complete their education and start their careers, said that during the first one months of the pandemic, 39% of the young people it serves lost their jobs.

The federal government, in addition to imposing the moratorium, has allocated $ 400 million in emergency funds to help former foster children aged 23 to 26. The deadline for distributing that money, unless extended, is also Thursday. Treehouse, responsible for administering $ 1.65 million in Washington, has so far only been able to find 600 of the 2,800 of these young adults, according to Rains.

The pandemic has exacerbated concerns that already existed about those aging outside the reception system. Some say that 21 is too early, even in normal times, to expect them to be completely independent.

“These kids don’t tend to have the kind of safety nets that other young adults have,” Rains said. “I think of the times my parents bailed me out in my twenties.” This is not an option for most people coming out of a foster family.

Advocates note that California in July approved a plan to send monthly checks of up to $ 1,000 to young people between the ages of 21 and 24 who have gone through the foster care system – announced as the country’s first guaranteed income program.

“I don’t think it’s necessarily that the support should last forever,” Rains said. “But there has to be a thoughtful transition plan. This is something the Legislature is working on, she said.

DCYF has also looked into the long-term possibility of keeping children in the child care system after age 21, said Jennifer Zipoy, administrator of DCYF’s adolescent programs.

Zipoy worked in the state’s juvenile rehabilitation system, which is part of the DCYF. Thanks to a recent bill, she pointed out, young adults who committed crimes as children are no longer transferred to the adult correctional system at age 21, but remain in juvenile institutions. up to 25 years.

“What this recognizes and validates is that children’s brains are not fully developed until the age of 25,” Zipoy said. The same principle applies to foster carers, she said, and it would make sense to keep children in the system for up to 25 years.

“There is no plan to do this at the moment,” Zipoy said. “It’s one of those great sounding things that works best for kids. “

At the moment, she said, the DCYF does not have the power to keep those 21 and over in the reception system. State law requires them to age. Advocates say the state could provide support for these young adults even if they are no longer technically in foster care. Witness California.

Zipoy said she was not familiar with what this state does.

“I don’t know how it would work,” she said, noting that the DCYF receives funds based on its programs, like foster care. Inslee’s office referred questions about people aging out of the care system to DCYF and did not respond to a question on Friday afternoon about the governor’s possibility of finding funds to help these young adults.

“What concerns me is that the perception is that we’re just cutting the kids off and sending them out on the streets,” Zipoy said. “I don’t think it is.”

She said a program manager had reviewed the cases of the 320 people who would be affected by the end of the moratorium and had worked hard over the past month to make sure their housing was as stable as possible.

“We don’t want anything bad to happen to these kids,” Zipoy said.

Campbell said her DCYF social worker briefly told her about the possible end of benefits, but did not offer any alternatives that could help her. “She has a lot of kids on her caseload,” Campbell said, referring to a long-standing problem for the child welfare system.

Even in the extended foster care program, Campbell struggled. She became homeless for about six months last year when the lease for a house she was renting a room in expired. She slept in the back of an old Honda Accord, all the more uncomfortable because her back was injured in a car accident.

“Then it was cold or too hot. Do I fall asleep with the window open and risk dying or someone kidnapping me? ”

Family members were not in the photo and she did not have a former foster parent she felt she could turn to. Aged 15 to 18, Campbell said she had been moved among dozens of homes.

Through a program called Housing for success, Campbell found the T2 Tacoma where she now lives. She’s studying a community college program that would give her a high school diploma at the same time because she never graduated.

The loss of payments of $ 810, she said, would come when she “finally got my life back on track.”


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