The Juvenile Law Center released a new tool today that could help policymakers and advocates better understand and serve older youth — those over 18 — who are aging out of foster care.
The National Extended Foster Care Review is a comprehensive database that catalogues each state’s laws and policies related to extended foster care.
“It really is a comprehensive catalogue approach to looking at what every single state is doing and how they’re alike and how they’re different,” said Juvenile Law Center attorney Lisa Swaminathan. “We will be connecting [that] into this larger question on how to provide extended care services in a way that is valuable to youth so they actually choose to remain in care.”
And it’s vitally important that young adults choose to remain in care, according to a policy brief from the Jim Casey Youth Opportunities Initiative, which works to help foster care youth transition into adulthood: Extending care beyond age 18 reduces the risk of homelessness and teenage pregnancy and increases the likelihood of having completed one year of college by 21.
With so much on the line, Swaminathan said the Juvenile Law Center wanted to create the database to explore why youth were not staying in foster care longer — especially because a 2008 law allowed states to use federal funding to extend foster care up to age 21.
To answer that question, the center looked at how inclusive the laws were to those aging out of foster care. They focused on extended foster care eligibility, reentry for youth 18 and over, case management services, court oversight and subsidies encouraging permanency for older youth. All are policy topics that can be filtered through the database to see where different states stand.
“I think it makes it very transparent what states are offering. What can be done so states can move the ball forward in their regulations to make extended care more accessible and responsive to youth,” Swaminathan said.
She is not alone in seeing this as a tool that could help create better extended foster care policy. Ezra Spitzer, executive director of New Mexico’s Child Advocate Network, an organization that works to help foster youth, said having the database will help them influence policy in New Mexico.
“Something like that can be very helpful in understanding how other states and jurisdictions have done it,” he said. “Lawmakers always want to know if it’s done in other places. It’s good to have data and to see this is what it looks in this state. It’s a nice way to have a lot of information readily accessible. Otherwise it’s a long process trying to contact folks in various places to see what’s going on.”
Still, Swaminathan said the National Extended Foster Care Review is just one step in trying to improve policy for older youth aging out of foster care. The Juvenile Law Center is working to create model components for extended care: laws that are inclusive and recognize a growing need for independence as youth age out of the traditional foster care system.
One example of a state effectively transitioning children from foster care is California, where young people living independently can be paid their subsidies directly, she said.
The database will be an important step to getting everyone on the same page to move that discussion forward, Swaminathan said.
“I don’t think it’s a tool that will change practice in states overnight — I think it’s an educational tool that will hopefully be part of a broader movement in how we approach extended care,” she said.