A group of mostly Democratic senators is calling on the Biden administration to prioritize helping out transition-age foster youth, whose health and well-being took a severe hit during the coronavirus pandemic.
Led by Sens. Dianne Feinstein of California and Mark Warner of Virginia, the group made the request in a letter they wrote May 19 to Aysha Schomburg, associate commissioner at the Department of Health and Human Services’ Children’s Bureau.
The bureau partners with federal, state, tribal and local agencies to bolster the overall health and well-being of children and families.
The tone of the letter was respectful as it ran down a grim litany of ways that younger former foster youth were challenged by the past year-plus, calling the statistics “heartbreaking and unacceptable.” For example, they cited one study that determined recently aged-out foster youth lost their jobs at three times the rate of everybody else and that two-thirds of study participants suffered major impacts on their educational plans. Only 5% of rural foster youth and 21% of their urban counterparts have reliable access to computers at home.
The senators asked the administration to help states, tribes, local agencies and U.S. territories address those issues and others. Although Congress has already given child welfare agencies more ability to help kids successfully move into adulthood, the administration must help by following through on implementation with the entities they serve.
“We ask that you work with child welfare agencies on context-specific plans to ensure foster youth have resources necessary to participate in online instruction or work virtually,” said the Schomburg letter.
The senators also stressed the importance of ensuring that child and family-serving agencies proactively inform foster youth about benefits related to stimulus checks, unemployment insurance and other COVID-19-related assistance. These youth must also be made aware of the extension of the earned income tax credit and child tax credit, and these credits should be made as easy to access as possible.
The administration was also urged to create and implement a robust plan to hook up aged-out foster youth with mental health services. These young people have suffered from acute social isolation and post-traumatic stress disorder during the pandemic, they said.
Finally, the letter asked the administration to commit to addressing the deep racial inequities in the child welfare system. Youth of color experience homelessness, unemployment, economic hardship and criminal justice system involvement at higher rates than their white peers after transitioning out of the foster care system, the letter said. It asked the Biden administration to work with kids, parents and kinship caregivers with lived expertise, as well as child welfare agencies and Congress to dismantle a system long rife with racial disparity.
The letter was also signed by Democratic Sens. Ron Wyden of Oregon, Bob Casey of Pennsylvania, Tim Kaine of Virginia, Maggie Hassan of New Hampshire, Amy Klobuchar of Maine, Chris Van Hollen of Maryland, Jack Reed of Rhode Island, Sherrod Brown of Ohio, Cory Booker of New Jersey and Richard Blumenthal of Connecticut. Angus King, an independent from Maine, signed on as well.