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Statement on Meeting the Needs of Older Youth in Foster Care by Carol W. Williams
Associate Commissioner, The Children's Bureau
Administration on Children, Youth and Families
Administration for Children and Families
U.S. Department of Health and Human Services

Before the House Committee on Ways and Means, Subcommittee on Human Resources
March 9, 1999


Madam Chairman and Members of the Subcommittee, I am pleased to appear before you today to discuss how we can better meet the needs of a special group of foster children who have little visibility -- older youth making the transition from foster care to adulthood. The President's budget for fiscal year 2000 outlines a series of proposals to address the needs of these youth. The budget proposes to expand the Independent Living Program; authorize a demonstration program of transitional support for former foster children between the ages of 18 and 21 (both of which proposals are within the jurisdiction of this Subcommittee); increase funding for the Transitional Living Program; and encourage continued access to health care for young adults emancipated from foster care. We are very pleased that the members of this Subcommittee have also expressed interest in increasing support for youth leaving the foster care system. I hope that on this issue, like others we have explored together in the past several years, we will be successful in enActing bipartisan legislation.

We are proud that the Administration has been able to work in a bipartisan fashion with the Congress over the past several years to pass critical adoption, foster care and child welfare reform legislation. Together, we have enacted and are now implementing laws that make the health and safety of children our first consideration and that encourage timely decision-making on behalf of all children in foster care. We are also working to tear down barriers to adoption, whether based on racial discrimination, geographic boundaries or simply outmoded assumptions about which children are "adoptable."

While we have accomplished a great deal, we have unfinished work remaining. We are making strides in increasing the number of children adopted from foster care. But we know that not all children needing permanent families will be adopted. Each year, nearly 20,000 young people in foster care reach the age of 18 and must enter adulthood without the financial or emotional support of a family. As any of us who have raised teenagers can attest, it is a rare young person who is ready on his or her 18th birthday to be fully autonomous and economically self-sufficient. We do not expect this of our own children. And yet, this is the burden we currently place on young adults aging out of the foster care system. I am reminded of the story a participant at one of our Kinship Care Advisory Group meetings told. This young woman spoke about how she had been raised as a foster child. When she turned 18, she went off to college. But she wondered did she have a family? Did she have a place to go home to on spring break? Or was she all on her own in the world?

For many youth emancipated from the foster care system, the consequences of being left to fend for themselves at the age of 18 are far more grave. Studies show that within two to four years of leaving foster care:

  • Only half of these young adults had completed high school;
  • Fewer than half were employed;
  • One-fourth had been homeless for at least one night;
  • Thirty (30) percent had not had access to needed health care;
  • Sixty (60 ) percent of the young women had given birth;
  • And, not surprisingly, less than one-fifth of these young people was completely self-sufficient.

Furthermore, many of these youngsters experience depression, isolation and loneliness.

Last Fall, along with the First Lady and others, I had an opportunity to hear from a group of former foster care youth. Among the things that these young people told us they needed in order to achieve self-sufficiency, stable living arrangements and mature relationships were:

  • Medical services, including mental health;
  • Education and/or vocational training;
  • Employment preparation and opportunities, including internships;
  • Transitional and/or supported housing; and
  • Psycho-social support via mentoring, counseling and/or support groups.

The proposals in the Administration's FY 2000 budget take an important next step in meeting the needs of young people who will be emancipated from the foster care system. I would now like to give a brief overview of our proposals.

Increase Funding for the Independent Living Program by 50 percent: The Independent Living Program, authorized by Section 477 of title IV-E of the Social Security Act, offers services to children in foster care who are age 16 or older. At State option, the program may serve both children who are eligible to receive Federal title IV-E foster care maintenance payments and youth in foster care supported through State dollars. States may also opt to serve children beyond the age of 18, up until the age of 21. All States and the District of Columbia have elected to exercise both of these options. The program is designed to help young people make the transition from foster care to self-sufficiency by:

  • Helping participants to obtain a high school diploma, a GED or to participate in vocational training;
  • Providing training in daily living skills, such as budgeting, locating housing, finding a job or planning a career;
  • Providing individual or group counseling;
  • Coordinating other social services available to the youth.

Since 1992, the Independent Living Program has been funded at $70 million annually. Of this amount, $25 million is required to be matched by the States. Funds are currently allotted among the States based on a formula tied to the number of children in the State who were receiving title IV-E foster care maintenance payments in 1984.

We propose to increase funding for the Independent Living Program by 50 percent to a total of $105 million annually. Of this amount, $45 million would need to be matched by the States. The formula for distributing funds would also be updated, so that funds would be allocated to the States on the basis of their number of children receiving title IV-E foster care maintenance payments in the most recent year for which data are available to the Secretary. There would also be a hold harmless provision, assuring that all States would receive at least as much as they did under the old formula.

While funding for the Independent Living Program has remained constant since 1992, the number of foster children ages 16 and older has grown from approximately 62,000 in 1992 to over 77,000 in 1998, and we expect this number to continue to grow for at least the next few years. We believe that the substantial increase in funding we are requesting for the program is needed to enable the States to serve this growing population of youth and to increase both the quantity and quality of services that are provided. This is a crucial investment that we owe to youth in foster care to help them become productive members of society as they enter young adulthood.

Research tells us that the Independent Living Program's services can and do make a difference in the lives of young people. A 1990 study found that providing more comprehensive services, including teaching a combination of skills--money management, consumer and credit management, education and employment skills-- helped youth to achieve better outcomes. Improvements in outcomes were seen in increased high school graduation rates, greater ability to maintain a job for at least a year, accessing appropriate health services, avoiding young parenthood and decreased dependence on public assistance programs.

It is important to highlight not only the importance of the direct services provided by State Independent Living Programs, but the creative linkages that these programs forge with other organizations in the public and private sectors in order to provide expanded opportunities for youth aging out of foster care.

  • In Virginia, the Independent Living Program secures internships with private businesses, community organizations, hospitals, universities and others in order to provide participants with opportunities to develop skills, gain work experience and earn a stipend.
  • In Texas, the State Independent Living Program has initiated a cooperative arrangement with State colleges to provide free college tuition to youth aging out of foster care.

These examples of collaboration and initiative translate into life-changing experiences for youth in foster care.

  • Brenda was a child who first came into Texas' foster care system when she was 3 years old. She was later returned to family, but re-entered care when she was 13. She was enrolled in the Independent Living Program and through this experience had the opportunity to serve on the Statewide Youth Advisory Committee, which works to make life better for children and youth in foster care. After emancipation from foster care, she began college, with the help of the State's tuition benefit program for children aging out of foster care. She graduated from college in 1996 with a bachelor's degree in social work and subsequently worked for the State child protective services agency. She now works as a case manager with a private child-placing agency. In her professional and personal commitments, she has worked to improve the lives of children in foster care. Her goal is to enter law school and to advocate for the rights of children and youth.

Create a Transitional Support Program for Older Youth: While the Independent Living Program provides needed services to help youth and young adults gain skills and education that will help them to become independent, the program does not allow payments for room and board. Furthermore, foster care maintenance payments generally cease once youth reach their 18th birthday. Therefore, young people leaving foster care no longer have any source of economic support for basic living expenses.

We propose to create a time-limited demonstration program of competitive grants to States that would provide economic support to young people between the ages of 18 and 21 who were, until aging out of the system, receiving title IV-E foster care; who are enrolled in an Independent Living Program; and who have an independent living plan that includes participation in an educational or job training program. The program would be funded at $5 million the first year in FY 2000, rising to $10 million in FY 2001, $15 million in FY 2002, and $20 million FY 2003. The program would be evaluated to determine its effect in helping young people to achieve positive outcomes.

This initiative would offer young people a better chance to gain independence by assuring them of both economic and social support while they pursue educational or job training activities. A recent survey of transitional living programs, which provide similar types of services and supports to homeless youth, found that 74 percent of youth were discharged to stable housing and, six months after completing participation in the program, 78 percent remained free of all direct government aid.

In addition to the President's proposals for the Independent Living Program and the new Transitional Support Program for Older Youth, there are several other proposals in the budget that I would like to take a moment to highlight. While they do not fall within the jurisdiction of this Subcommittee, they are substantively related to assuring positive outcomes for youth leaving foster care.

Provide Health Insurance for Youth Leaving Foster Care: When foster care youth lose their eligibility for title IV-E foster care maintenance payments at age 18, they also lose their heath insurance provided by Medicaid. The President's budget includes a proposal to allow the States to extend Medicaid coverage for these youth until their 21st birthday.

Increase Funding for the Transitional Living Program: The President's budget proposes to increase discretionary funding for the Transitional Living Program by 33 percent, from $15 million in FY 1999 to $20 million in FY 2000. The Transitional Living Program, authorized by the Runaway and Homeless Youth Act, provides grants to local community-based organizations to provide residential care, life skills training, vocational training, and other support services to homeless youth ages 16 - 21. While the Independent Living Program serves youth who are in the custody of State child welfare systems, the Transitional Living Program serves youth who are homeless, and not in the custody of any other service system. Sadly, this group of homeless youth includes many young people who suffered abuse or neglect at home, a small proportion of whom were previously in foster care.

The President's budget outlines a sound set of policy initiatives to improve supports to youth leaving foster care, in order to help them on the road to healthy, productive lives as adults. We recognize that there are other ideas that Congress will also be considering. In particular, we would like to acknowledge Congressman Cardin for the leadership he has shown on this issue by introducing H.R. 671, the "Transition to Adulthood Program Act of 1999". We are very interested in working with the members of this Subcommittee to explore all options that meet our common goals for youth aging out of foster care. What we want for these young people is really the same as what we want our own children--that they be well educated and prepared for the world of work, physically and emotionally healthy, economically secure, and supported through a network of caring relationships. To promote these positive outcomes we need policies and programs that help youth:

  • To develop needed basic living, educational and vocational skills;
  • To have access to financial support;
  • To retain health insurance coverage; and
  • To obtain stable housing and employment as they reach adulthood.

Thank you for the opportunity to appear before the Subcommittee. I would be pleased to answer any questions you might have.


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