By  Dr. Maggie Stevens

Measures to help older foster youth struggling during the pandemic were tucked into the latest COVID Relief Package signed by President Trump. At a time when more than half of Americans under 30 have moved back home with their parents, these young adults don’t have families to rely on and are in desperate need of lifelines.

The Supporting Foster Youth & Families through the Pandemic Act (H.R. 7947) was authored by Congressman Danny Davis (D – IL) and Indiana’s own Congresswoman Jackie Walorski (R – IN). It was included in the Consolidated Appropriations Act and will pave the way for millions of dollars in additional support for teens and young adults in the foster system.

A lot of voices informed the most recent COVID relief bill, but most notable to those of us at Foster Success were the voices of older foster youth and former foster care youth from our own Hoosier communities and others across the country. From the beginning of the pandemic, until the bill was signed in late December, young people led the advocacy efforts through multiple town halls, listening sessions, op-eds and legislative visits that resulted in the passage of this important bill.

The direct impact of the bill on the lives of youth in foster care and those in danger of aging out is significant and includes:

  • Prohibitions on states exiting youth from foster care due to age
  • Increased funding and age eligibility for supportive resources for older foster youth
  • Increased per-student funding for post-secondary education expenses
  • Permanence to the Foster Youth to Independence (FYI) program to help reduce homelessness among young adults transitioning out of foster care

In May, Governor Holcomb recognized the unique needs of Indiana’s older youth in foster care and issued Executive Order 20 – 31 allowing for the continuation of Collaborative Care (extended foster care) for older foster youth beyond age 21. Without the family support that many others have to fall back on, this has significantly helped Indiana’s older youth in foster care. With the provisions in the COVID relief package, not only will more of Indiana’s older youth in foster care be eligible for support, but older youth in and those leaving foster care across the entire country will have access to the same resources.

Organizations in Indiana and the nation have been advocating for this support for the past 10 months. We are encouraged by the inclusion of these provisions in the relief bill and we look forward to working with our local, state, and federal lawmakers to ensure that the support foster care youth need outlasts the impact of this pandemic.

This additional federal funding and other assistance, such as Foster Success’ Emergency Fund, will help foster youth get through this incredibly difficult time and help provide a safety net.

However, let me be clear. The need to support older foster youth won’t disappear when the pandemic is under control. This is a vulnerable population at risk of unemployment, homelessness, dropping out of school and involvement in the criminal justice system. As a society, we mustn’t forget these kids, even after the pandemic is just a memory.

Dr. Maggie Stevens is the CEO & President of  Foster Success.