When the clouds of COVID-19 descended over the world, like many others, current and former foster youth lost their jobs and then their housing. Many faced immediate financial hardships in paying bills and buying food.
The last five months have been difficult for all of us, but they have been especially harrowing for young adults from foster care. As the executive director of FosterClub, the national network for young people in foster care, I have seen the disaster quietly unfold for our former foster youth.
Child welfare systems badly need federal help in stabilizing the world for these young people. Congress now has packages to do so in both chambers, and it must act to include them in any upcoming stimulus legislation.
As the coronavirus ravaged its way across the country, we saw schools and dormitories close, and businesses shutter their doors. Many young people early in their journeys into adulthood simply returned home to ride out the uncertain days within the safe cocoon of family. For young adults who aged out of foster care without families, many have endured the pandemic largely alone without anyone they can turn to for financial or emotional support.
Tiara Mosely is one of those young people. She spent four years in the Iowa foster care system, and shared with us that her future aspirations before COVID-19 seemed very attainable. She had steady employment, and even though she was working three jobs, she was able to fully take care of herself.
But now, employment opportunities have dried up. She wrote us that COVID-19 has left her “extremely vulnerable.” Another young person, “John” from Indiana, wrote us that he was “trying to find a job to pay for my bills, I have no financial help at all, while taking online classes.”
We hear from young adults like Tiara and John every day. We conducted two polls in April and May and learned that 65% of the young people had lost their employment, had hours cut or been laid off because of the pandemic. Fifty-two percent did not receive the stimulus check and half were unable to get unemployment support.
Even in normal times, these young people are exceptionally vulnerable to outside stresses and hardships, because often, they have no one to call when things get tough. Their car breaks down, they need an emergency root canal, or maybe they forgot to fill out one of their financial aid forms so their enrollment at college is threatened. Any one of those things can derail their efforts to build a successful life after foster care. And that was before COVID-19.
Last week, a ray of bipartisan hope broke through the clouds when Chairman Danny Davis (D-Ill.) and Ranking Member Jackie Walorski (R-Ind.), with support from colleagues on the House Ways and Means Committee, introduced the Supporting Foster Youth and Families through the Pandemic Act (H.R. 7947) that would help young people who have aged out of foster care without families weather the economic effects of the COVID-19.
This bill would not only provide additional temporary supports and flexibilities for older foster youth, but would also provide those to grandparents and other kinship families caring for young people, provide additional home visiting support for pregnant and parenting families, and other child welfare services for a limited time. Several other bills have been introduced by child welfare leaders in the Senate and House with some of the same or similar provisions. The need to support young people from foster care is urgent, and they should not be forgotten in the next relief package.
I hope that one day, in the not so distant future, we can find a way to ensure that all children from foster care are placed in a safe, permanent family of their own, one that could help them through a crisis like the COVID-19 pandemic.
But young people from foster care need our help today. As Congress and the White House negotiate another COVID-19 package to help the American people, I urge everyone to fight harder to support, protect and ensure young adults formerly in foster care have direct emergency relief to survive this pandemic. Please include these provisions in the relief package. We need to help these young adults from foster care weather this storm and get back on track with their lives. They are counting on us.