Expanding the Chafee Program
The Imprint is highlighting each of the policy recommendations made this summer by the participants of the Foster Youth Internship Program, a group of seven former foster youth who have completed congressional internships.
The program is overseen each summer by the Congressional Coalition on Adoption Institute, a Washington, D.C.-based nonprofit that raises awareness about the needs of children without families. Each of the participants crafted a policy recommendation during their time in Washington, D.C.
Today we highlight the recommendation from Christina Parker, 28, a graduate of the University of Michigan School of Social Work.
Parker argues for writing more flexibility into the John H. Chafee Foster Care Program for Successful Transition to Adulthood (Chafee) and Education and Training Voucher (ETV), the two federal funding streams focused on supporting transition-age youth who have experienced foster care. Chafee supports independent living support, while ETV is focused on helping foster youth pay for college.
Parker would achieve this with several targeted changes to the rules around allowable spending in both programs by permitting Chafee funds to flow for college costs, augmenting the smaller ETV allocation in states where demand for the tuition help exceeded supply. States would also be able to seek flexibility, with the input of current and former foster youth, for the use of both funding streams, including for student loan forgiveness.
Parker would also change the eligibility rules for Chafee and ETV to include “any young people who have spent at least one year in foster care.” Currently, the programs are open to help youth who are in foster care at age 14, or who exited to adoption or guardianship at age 16 or later.
Finally, Parker would call for guidance that Chafee funds could be used to provide a monthly housing allowance for youth in college that could be used when school was out or if a student’s grades had slipped below the “Satisfactory Academic Progress” standard.
While Chafee and ETV have provided critical support for some older foster youth seeking out higher education, Parker argues, its age eligibility requirements limit the extent to which it can help, as compared to the less-restricted benefits included for veterans in the Post-9/11 G.I. Bill.
In Their Own Words
“When I graduated high school, I was ineligible for support from the Chafee program and the Educational and Training Vouchers (ETVs), placing me far behind my peers in terms of financial assistance and support. As a first-generation college student, I relied on loans, scholarships, and multiple jobs to make ends meet.”
The Imprint’s Take
We like the idea of “Chafee committees” made up of current and former foster youth that could advise the state child welfare agency on how to best use its allocation. Chafee is quite flexible already; we suspect some of the things Parker proposes could already be done under its rules.
Her call to expand Chafee eligibility to anyone who experienced a year of foster care constitutes a major shift in who the program serves. For context, according to the most recent federal data, about 18% of youth entering foster care in 2020 did so at age 14 and above. So just for 2020 enterers alone, given that the average length of stay in foster care is well past one year, the eligibility scope would go from about 40,000 up to more like 150,000.
That would take Chafee from a program for transition-age youth likely to age out of the system to a support for most children who ever experience foster care. That sort of shift would have to come with a major increase in spending, or there would be waiting lists full of youth whose requests for help would go unmet.