As part of her work to ensure that foster youth are successful as they move into adulthood and to combat some of the startling statistics about former foster youth, Congresswoman Karen Bass (D-CA) joined the Congressional Caucus on Foster Youth co-chairs Reps. Tom Marino (R-PA), Jim McDermott (D-WA), Jim Langevin (D-RI), Diane Black (R-TN) and Trent Franks (R-AZ) to introduce H.R. 3160, the “Foster Youth Independence Act of 2015.” This legislation will enable foster youth to continue to receive much-needed resources as they transition into adulthood and independence.
Every year, 23,000 young people age out of foster care in need of various support to transition into adulthood–including housing, healthcare, education, financial literacy, and job training. Youth who age out of care face many challenges when adjusting to life on their own. Last year, the Department of Housing and Urban Development concluded that between 11 and 37 percent of youth who age out of foster care experience homelessness after they transition, and an additional 25 to 50 percent do not have stable housing when they leave the foster care system.
One foster youth who would benefit from this legislation is Briana Smith from Los Angeles, California. A 20-year-old college junior majoring in accounting, Briana will have to face difficult choices when she ages out of the foster care system at her next birthday.
“I’m scared,” said Briana. “I am going to be out on my own, and I will have to establish everything. I will lose my healthcare and my housing, and I will need to find an apartment while I establish my credit.”
Having two more years would be incredibly beneficial to Briana.
“The system is my parents,” she said as she was grateful for the prospect of having two more years of support.
The John H. Chafee Foster Care Independence Program is designed to offer assistance to Briana and other aged out youth to attain “self-sufficiency” up to age 21. However, studies have concluded that youth do not mentally mature into adulthood by 21, leaving many “aged out” foster youth left to fend for themselves while navigating the world.
This legislation will help curb some of the trends that have impacted young people who leave the foster care system. Today, only 4 percent of youth who age out of foster care earn a 4-year college degree by the time they are 26, compared to 36 percent of youth in the general population, and only half will have found a job.
“In the best of home support situations it is difficult for a young person today to be completely independent by the time they turn 21. That challenge becomes even greater for foster youth,” said Rep. Bass. “Ensuring that young people like Briana can still have access to stable housing and healthcare is an investment that will pay off in better college graduation outcomes as well as job placements and guaranteeing that they can succeed as adults.”
The “Foster Youth Independence Act of 2015” will help young people by expanding the John H. Chafee Foster Independence Program to age 23 to aged-out foster youth in states that have already expanded eligibility to age 21. Foster youth will benefit from the added support of programs designed to prepare them for a successful transition into independence and adulthood. States will also benefit from the flexibility to provide support in the manner that best serves foster youth as they approach the age when they will age out.
The legislation will not require additional spending as it provides authorization to use existing funds for current foster youth.