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Friday, September 2, 2011

Youth Transitioning from Foster Care: Issues for Congress

Adrienne L. Fernandes-Alcantara
Specialist in Social Policy

Recent research has demonstrated that compared to their peers, current and former foster youth are more likely to experience negative outcomes in adulthood. This research, along with the efforts of policymakers and child welfare advocates, has brought greater attention to the challenges facing youth transitioning from foster care. In response, Congress has sought to improve existing services and provide additional supports for this population. The 110th Congress passed, and President George W. Bush enacted, the Fostering Connections to Success and Increasing Adoptions Act of 2008 (P.L. 110-351), which is arguably one of the most significant laws passed in the past two decades that expands services and supports for older youth in care. This report presents issues around implementation of P.L. 110-351. It also describes other issues affecting older youth as they transition from foster care into adulthood.

As enacted, P.L. 110-351 extends eligibility, beginning in FY2011, for federal foster care assistance to youth who remain in care after age 18 (at state option until 19, 20, or 21). P.L. 110- 351 additionally authorizes this assistance on behalf of older youth eligible for federal foster care if they reside in an independent living setting (as well as foster family homes or other eligible settings). The law requires the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) to define independent living settings in regulation. One possible challenge in implementing the law is that even with assistance from the federal government, states (and tribes, pursuant to P.L. 110-351) may be hesitant to extend care to older youth because of the cost. Child welfare agencies may also face difficulties in retaining youth in care, even if remaining in care would be beneficial. For those states that choose to extend care, they will also need to determine how the courts will oversee cases involving these older youth, and how to facilitate emancipated youth returning to foster care between ages 18 and 21.

P.L. 110-351 also expands the purposes of the Chafee Foster Care Independence Program (CFCIP). The CFCIP was established in 1999 (P.L. 106-169) to provide supports and services to current and former foster youth who are likely to be emancipated from care. Changes made by P.L. 110-351 explicitly permit states to provide CFCIP services to youth who leave care at age 16 or older through kinship guardianship or adoption. Funding for the CFCIP was not increased, and whether states will expand their independent living programs to include this population remains to be seen. In addition, the law requires child welfare agencies to assist youth who are leaving foster care in developing a transition plan so that they have specific options on housing, employment, education, and mentoring.

In July 2010, HHS issued program instructions that provide guidance to states on the implementation of P.L. 110-351. Despite the passage of P.L. 110-351 and issuance of accompanying guidance, policymakers and advocates remain concerned that older foster youth and those who have aged out will continue to experience challenges during the transition to adulthood. Emancipated youth face particular obstacles in fostering permanent connections with caring adults, securing health insurance and housing, and staying connected to work and school. Little is known about youth as they transition from foster care, although a new national database will likely provide some insight into their outcomes across a number of areas, such as education, employment, and contact with social service and criminal justice systems.

For background information about older foster youth and the current federal policies and programs for this population, see CRS Report RL34499, Youth Transitioning from Foster Care: Background and Federal Programs, by Adrienne L. Fernandes-Alcantara.

Date of Report: August 22, 2011
Number of Pages: 41
Order Number: R40218
Price: $29.95

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