Financial Help for Foster Kids
Imagine waking up on your 18th birthday, and instead of opening presents, you are told to pack your bags and get out of the house.
As depressing as that sounds, that is the reality for 23,000 kids who age out of the foster care system.
The term “aging out” means the government no longer has jurisdiction over a child, once they reach a certain age in foster care, and they no longer qualify for government benefits.
The damage caused by aging out of the foster care system goes much deeper than just losing government benefits. Children placed in the foster care system are often the victims of abuse, neglect or abandonment. They age out because the system never found someone to adopt them so they’re cycled back to abandonment.
Keri Flynn works with a lot of these kids as the Director of Youth Services at Community Based Care of Central Florida. “These young adults need a support system, somebody to lean on.” Flynn said. “They need to know that they are capable of obtaining their dreams, and they need a roof over their head.”
It’s up to them to support themselves financially, get a roof over their head and put food on the table—often at the cost of pursuing their education. Chaplin Hall followed 700 youth making the transition over a 10-year period, and concluded that “Young people are aging out of foster care without the knowledge and skills they need to make it on their own.”
Toolkits Will Help Transition
The U.S. Department of Education provides a Foster Care Transition Tool Kit. It’s incredibly extensive and incredibly heavy for a teenager to comprehend. Federal law requires child welfare agencies to begin working with foster youth at age 14 to develop plans for transition into adulthood. The plan is supposed to be completed 90 days before they are out of foster care. It’s hard to believe anyone that young can grasp how Medicaid works, what a credit score is, how to balance a budget or what they will need to sign a lease.
Foster Club has their own transition tool kit with much more direct guidelines. The tool kit is meant for foster youth, but really these principles could be applied to anyone moving out of the house for the first time. At the minimum, you’ll need a plan in place for finances, housing, health care and your education and career.
Here are some recommendations that any child leaving home could learn from.
Financial Considerations for Foster Children
Get a bank account with a checking and a savings account before you move out. Have a source of income and list all the types of aid you might qualify for such as social security, housing support, food stamps, financial aid for college, etc.
Next, create a budget listing your expenses (rent, food, utilities, transportation, clothing, medical care),and how much money you’ll need to cover them. Remember to put some money away into your savings account, so you can start building an emergency fund to cover unexpected expenses.
Calculate how much it would cost to rent your own space. Living with roommates can cut the cost of living in half, but the total should never exceed 35% of your monthly income. The John F. Chafee Foster Care Independence Program provides housing vouchers for foster youth making the transition to independence. Also, look into transitional housing programs offered by your state.
Have a backup plan with a place to stay if things don’t work out. That could be the home of a friend or an emergency shelter. The Teen Project has a number you can text to find a shelter near you, or go to ShelterListings.org for a complete list of shelters in your area.
Youth in foster care are eligible for Medicaid, and as of 2014, youth formerly in foster care are eligible for Medicaid up to age 26, thanks to the Affordable Care Act. You are eligible for full Medicaid coverage regardless of your income or whether your state declined to expand Medicaid coverage. Note that you are only eligible for Medicaid in the state in which you age out of foster care. If you move to another state, they are not required to give you coverage, although 12 states have agreed to cover foster youth from other states.
Education and Career
Stay on track to earn your high school diploma or GED. There are a number of resources available to help pay for college, so take full advantage of those. If you live in one of the 20 states that offer tuition waivers for foster youth, you won’t pay a dime for tuition. Another eight states offer grants or scholarships as a form of tuition assistance.
Apply for financial aid by filling out a Free Application For Student Aid (FAFSA), and you should qualify for a Federal Pell Grant worth up to $5,920. The John H. Chafee Foster Care Independence Program can help you get up to $5,000 with an Educational and Training Voucher (ETV) from your state. Foster Care to Success can link you up with scholarships specifically for foster youth, and there are a number of other scholarships and grants for college students.
College isn’t the only way to get your career off the ground. A recent presidential executive order expanded apprenticeship programs, to help you learn a craft and make a career out of it. ETVs can also provide money for career school or training.
Foster Children Statistics
It’s important for foster care children to have a plan in place because the odds are stacked against them. Youth who age out of foster care belong to one of most vulnerable and at-risk groups in America.
- 1-in-4 won’t graduate from high school or be able to pass their GED
- Less than 3% earn a college degree at any point
- 20% will become instantly homeless
- 60% will be convicted of a crime
- 7-out-of-10 girls will become pregnant before the age of 21
There are options for these kids, but the real solution is to prevent them from aging out altogether. Community Based Care of Central Florida has decreased the number of children who age out of foster cares in Central Florida by 66% since Florida adopted the private foster care model 12 years ago.
“Nothing is consistent in foster care,” Flynn explained. “It’s a state of flux, so the goal is to have them adopted or reunited with their family in less than 12 months. We don’t want them to spend more than one birthday or Christmas in the system because nothing is permanent.”
Of course, there is a moral obligation, but for governments and communities there is an economic one too. On average, for every youth that ages out of foster care, taxpayers pay $300,000 in social costs over their lifetime. That’s $7.8 billion each year. The cost could be reduced dramatically by finding them a permanent home.
Historically, 18 was the age foster kids were shown the door. Today, 25 states extend services beyond 18, and most states offer some form of benefits until the age of 21 due to the Fostering Connections to Success Act of 2008, which made federal money available to states through Title IV-E reimbursements. Still, the number of youth that age out has remained relatively the same.
“Think about it, when you turned 18, you were still a senior in high school,” Flynn said. “So, the thought that 18 was this magic number where all of a sudden you were ready to be an adult no matter where you are in life is unrealistic. Now there is extended foster care, where if you are in school or work 80 hours a month, you can stay at your foster home or wherever up to age 21. That’s a relatively new concept.”
Those that remain in the system know the stakes. They witness their peers’ struggle and hear their stories. People point to statistics like the ones above and don’t give them a chance. Here another stat: 70% of foster youth say they want to go to college someday (only 6% do). They need to be given a better chance.
“A lot of our kids just want to be better than their parents,” Flynn said. “A lot of them want to graduate high school because their parents didn’t. They don’t want to be in an abusive relationship because that’s all they witnessed when they grew up. They want to provide a better life for their kids. These aren’t extraordinary goals, but I just want to hug them because it’s the things we all take for granted.”
These children don’t want much, but communities should be able to provide them with so much more.
National Foster Youth Institute (2017 May 26) 51 Useful Aging Out of Foster Care Statistics. Retrieved from https://www.nfyi.org/51-useful-aging-out-of-foster-care-statistics-social-race-media/
National Conference of State Legislators (2017 July 28) Extending Foster Care Beyond 18. Retrieved from http://www.ncsl.org/research/human-services/extending-foster-care-to-18.aspx
Chaplin Hall (2011) MidWest Evaluation of the Adult Functioning of Former Foster Youth. Retrieved from http://www.chapinhall.org/research/report/midwest-evaluation-adult-functioning-former-foster-youth
Children’s Bureau (2015 May) Healthcare Coverage for Youth in Foster Care– and After. Retrieved from https://www.childwelfare.gov/pubPDFs/health_care_foster.pdf
The Annie E. Casey Foundation (2013 April 19) Aging Out of Foster Care in America. Retrieved from http://www.aecf.org/resources/aging-out-of-foster-care-in-america/
Education Commission of the States (2015) State-Level Tuition Assistance Programs for Foster Youth in Postsecondary Education. Retrieved from https://www.ecs.org/state-level-tuition-assistance-programs-for-foster-youth-in-postsecondary-education/