On November 22nd, Michigan became the seventh state to opt into extending foster care from 18 to 21 since the Fostering Connections Act was signed into law in 2008. Over the last three years, 25 states have submitted program design plans for approval, 11 of which included plans to extend foster care through age 21.
The child welfare field is well aware of the benefits to extending foster care through age 21, which include strengthening and stabilizing their health care coverage through coordinated services, and increasing their likelihood of postsecondary educational attainment.
These benefits go beyond the individual foster youth, as health care coverage into early adulthood and earning upper-level degrees saves the government money and increases earning potential, both of which are important for maintaining a healthy workforce and economy.
So, with this valuable evidence, why is it that less than half of the proposed plans include an extension of the foster care age and why have only seven states (including Minnesota) passed foster care extension laws? There is really no easy answer.
The law states (Title II, Sec. 201):
(a) DEFINITION OF CHILD...is amended by adding at the end the following: ''The term 'child' means an individual who has not attained 18 years of age. (B) At the option of a State, the term shall include an individual (i)(I) who is in foster care under the responsibility of the State; (II) with respect to whom an adoption assistance agreement is in effect under section 473 if the child...(III)has not attained 19, 20, or 21 years of age, as the State may elect..."
Here we can see that the law's verbiage is a bit vague and leaves the extension up to each state's discretion. While this is beneficial for state's with limited resources and flexibility, it also provides little guidance for how an extension, if desired, ought to be implemented. Additionally, while there are many funding streams for reimbursement on foster youth between 18 and 21, some reimbursement methods may create disincentives for permanency. An example of this would be extending IV-E assistance for foster care but not in adoption or guardian assistance.
As a response, organizations like Casey Family Programs and Fostering Connections have developed toolkits and other resources that adress policy implementation problems as well as provide best practices for extending foster care in your state.
What are some other pros and cons to extending foster care through age 21? How can we ensure permanency is still a priority for youth ages 18 to 21, both in our public policy and programming?