Sens. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) and Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) have introduced a bill that would commit $100 million over five years to support programs aimed at helping older youth in foster care transition into adulthood.
“There’s no magic age at which young people suddenly turn into adults, fully capable of taking care of their needs without support,” said Wyden, in a statement announcing the legislation. “This bill will help build and expand programs that successfully support young people aging out of foster care, giving them solid footing for a successful future.”
As the number of foster youths fell and then spiked in the past two decades, and while adoptions and guardianships with relatives have soared, the number of youth who aged out of America’s foster care systems remained stubbornly between 20,000 and 25,000 each year. The total finally declined to below 20,000 in 2017, and last year to just under 18,000.
The Increasing Opportunity for Former Foster Youth Act would expand the John Chafee Foster Care Independence programs, the federal government’s dedicated slate of funding for supporting transition age youth. It establishes a competitive grant program that would fund between 10 and 15 grants each year for “identifying programs with evidence of effectiveness, determining if they can be replicated with fidelity and demonstrate results, and scaling up successful programs so more youth receive effective services that help them to transition successfully to adulthood.”
The grants could go to state or local child welfare agencies, or to private providers. At least one would have to support a tribal child welfare agency.
The bill envisions three types of grants:
- Validation grants, meant to test the efficacy of programs with only a moderate level of evidence
- Development grants to help carry out programs that are working to build a causal level of evidence for its effectiveness
- Replication grants to help spread those programs with the strongest evidence of effectiveness
“There are innovative programs across the country seeking to help these youth,” said Grassley, in a statement. “It’s important to evaluate those programs to ensure that they are effective in improving outcomes.”
The bill is written to be inclusive of programs that address all of the predictable challenges a youth entering adulthood from foster might face: housing stability, mental health, being a young parent, to name a few. It will be models that specialize in helping adolescents with those needs that stand to gain here. Among them:
- Home visiting programs, which are frequently used by child welfare agencies to connect parenting foster youths with a professional
- Better Futures, which pair older foster youth with a coach to keep them on a path to postsecondary education
- Social Effectiveness Therapy and Cool Kids, two models that work on anxiety with older teens
- YVLifeSet, a program from the nonprofit Youth Villages that pairs professional supporters with a small caseload of older youth in care.
- Transition to Independence (TIP), which specializes in serving youth and young adults struggling with mental health issues, homelessness or both.
The funding for this grant program would be set at $20 million through fiscal 2025. Grassley and Wyden, the senior party leaders on the Senate Finance Committee, would pay for the appropriation with provisions expected to make child support collection more efficient. This is expected to safe federal dollars over time through the Title IV-D program, through which the federal government matches state spending on enforcement and collection.
The current Chafee programs are an annual $140 million for independent living services, and $43 million for Educational Training Vouchers, which provide up to $5,000 each year to current and former foster youths to pay for the cost of education.
Under the Family First Prevention Services Act, passed in 2018, the age ceiling was increased for both of those accounts – independent living to age 23, and the vouchers through age 26.