New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) signed a law Tuesday making it easier for former foster youth who have not yet turned 21 to re-enter the city’s care, which can include housing assistance and monthly stipends to cover their basic needs.
Previously, youth seeking re-entry to foster care had to file a court motion and get it granted by a judge, a process that has been complicated by pandemic-related court closures and case backlogs. Effective immediately, they can make the request directly to the local social services commissioner. For the duration of the public health emergency, the new law also suspends requirements that young people work or attend school in order to receive assistance.
Though New York offers extended foster care services up to age 21, each year hundreds of young adults sign themselves out after turning 18, often tired of years of meeting with caseworkers and eager to live life on their own terms. But with pandemic-related job losses disproportionately affecting the youngest workers, many former foster youth are finding they can no longer support themselves and have no family to fall back on for housing or financial support.
The ease and speed with which youth were previously able to re-enter foster care varied by county. In New York City, the Administration for Children’s Services has a specialized unit to assist young adults who have exited care but need additional support. In 2019, 90 young people applied to re-enter care in the city: 31 were approved, 32 withdrew their applications and 27 did not meet the criteria or were disapproved, according to a report by the agency.
In a note accompanying his signature on the bill, Gov. Cuomo wrote that the new process for re-entry creates some technical issues that need to be corrected to preserve federal funding, but that the legislature had pledged to rectify those concerns in the next session.
Smoothing the path to reentry was one of the two main changes for which advocates for foster youth have lobbied the state for most of the year. The second — a moratorium on automatically discharging young people from foster care on their 21st birthday during the pandemic — was originally part of the same bill, but it was removed before the legislature passed the bill this summer.
Many advocates say the recent change, while welcome, isn’t enough. Among them is Betsy Kramer, director of public policy and special litigation at Lawyers for Children, a nonprofit law firm that represents foster youth.
“This bill provides crucial protection to youth who are under the age of 21, have no alternative but to return to placement, and are unable to access the Family Courts,” Kramer wrote in an email. “We are, however, disappointed that Governor Cuomo and the legislature have not included protections for youth who are turning 21 and being forced out of foster care without stable housing or income.”
In a September letter endorsing the reentry bill, the New York City Bar Association also called for the state to go further in providing for vulnerable young adults during the pandemic.
“We continue to believe it is important to protect all older children who are aging out of foster care during the pandemic,” they wrote. “The state needs to keep its doors open to these youth during this crisis.”