On Dec. 27, 2020, federal legislation passed directing all states to enact pandemic support for older fosters, starting immediately and ending September 30 of this year.
Prior to knowing about the federal bill, I was anticipating aging out in spring 2021. I faced deep stress about how to complete college, raise my son and find a living wage job, all while having no day care and losing extended foster care as my main support system and financial resource — all in the middle of a pandemic. Coming from a history of sexual exploitation and trafficking, my mind resorted to depending on sex work to survive. Knowing it was something I had been trained to do throughout my childhood, knowing day care would not be an issue and knowing our finances would be sitting well, it made the most sense.
Learning about the federal bill flooded me with relief. I suddenly had an extension through the end of September to figure out sustainable ways to live. But this relief was crushed when my caseworker reached out in February to complete my 90-day “transition plan.”
Confusion and dread set in. I shared the federal bill information, which she in turn shared with her supervisor, both of whom were unaware of its existence. Because of my self-advocacy, they contacted the Minnesota Department of Human Services (DHS) to confirm its applicability. During this exchange, I kept thinking “What the hell? This is backwards.” As a ward of the state, I should not be educating my caseworker about my rights — she should be educating me.
In April, Minnesota DHS bragged about providing extended support for older fosters, after finally following the federal law and implementing a moratorium in March on aging out of care. Minnesota wants the public to blindly trust in the care they are providing during the pandemic to those they are responsible for — like me. In 2012 at the age of 12, Minnesota became my parent. But the last eight years have shown anything but support, consistency or a foundation to foster success. The COVID-19 pandemic has exposed the lack of infrastructure for those in the system, specifically fosters.
Though my initial frustration was directed at my caseworker, I know it’s not on her, or her supervisor. This lack of communication was just the latest in broken trust on DHS’s part, evidence of their failure to meet the needs of older fosters and the challenges we face regularly. Fosters have been left by the wayside, with deep uncertainty about aging out into the pandemic. Many of us are struggling to decide whether to put food on the table or pay for diapers.
Unknown to me, eight states and Washington, D.C. enacted an aging-out moratorium in the spring of 2020, similar to the federal bill that was passed in December, to support older fosters and provide the stability that any reasonable parent would during the pandemic. Other states had the opportunity to follow suit — but never did. It took a federal bill for most child welfare systems to care about us fosters during a pandemic. Minnesota had an opportunity to alleviate instability for fosters and chose not to. This feels like a blatant slap in the face. The state waited for the struggle to happen, instead of acting proactively, and now has to repair the damage of the past year after being told by higher-ups to care about fosters. The relief I felt in the new year could have been felt over a year ago.
With the September 30 deadline quickly approaching, the relief I have felt is rapidly diminishing. This is not new. It continues the pattern I’ve felt for a long time: The state and federal government do not see fosters. They do not hear us, they do not acknowledge us, and the stress from that indifference is irrefutable.
For some youth, being removed from birth homes is needed. But if the state is removing vulnerable kids, the system needs to be prepared to support them through their childhood and into young adulthood — like any parent would. Right now, we’re removed, but many of us are not given tools to survive, let alone thrive. The system infantilizes us by deeply limiting our choices and then we are left to figure things out completely on our own with no guidance.
What the federal legislation has shown over the past eight months is that it is feasible and attainable to support fosters beyond age 21. The crisis of the pandemic has not ended, but our support is drying up on the arbitrary date of September 30. Why should this support stop now, when no reasonable parent is rescinding their support of and responsibility to their children in the next month?
We have seen that Minnesota and the federal government can support myself and other transition-age fosters in the way we deserve — but the will and care to do so is fading fast. It is not acceptable for the federal government to let the September 30 deadline lapse without extending support for fosters. For states like Minnesota to see this looming deadline, and not act to prevent fosters from facing the inevitable harm of losing this support while we are still in the middle of the pandemic, is deeply unnerving.
As a ward of the state, Minnesota is my parent and collectively all of you are too. Will you collectively care for us now, and hold the federal and state government accountable so they don’t fail fosters yet again?