Adrienne L. Fernandes-Alcantara Specialist in Social Policy
While most young people have access to emotional and financial support systems throughout their early adult years, older youth in foster care and those who are emancipated from care often face obstacles to developing independent living skills and building supports that ease the transition to adulthood. Older foster youth who return to their parents or guardians may continue to experience poor family dynamics or a lack of emotional and financial supports, and studies have shown that recently emancipated foster youth fare poorly relative to their counterparts in the general population on several outcome measures.
Recognizing the difficulties faced by older youth in care and youth emancipating from foster care, Congress created a new Independent Living initiative (P.L. 99-272) in 1986 to assist certain older foster youth as they enter adulthood. The legislation authorized mandatory funding to states under a new Section 477 of the Social Security Act. In 1999, P.L. 106-169 rewrote Section 477 to create the John H. Chafee Foster Care Independence Program (CFCIP) and doubled the total annual funds available to states from $70 million to $140 million. The law also expanded the population of youth eligible to receive independent living services—with no lower age limit—and gave states greater flexibility in designing independent living programs. Independent living services can refer to assistance in obtaining a high school diploma and training in daily living skills, among other services.
The CFCIP has been amended three times. In 2002, the Promoting Safe and Stable Amendments of 2001 (P.L. 107-133) authorized discretionary funding for states to provide education and training vouchers (ETV) to youth who age out of foster care and youth adopted from care at age 16 or older. For FY2010, Congress appropriated $45.4 million to the ETV program. The CFCIP was amended again in 2008 by the Fostering Connections to Success and Increasing Adoptions Act of 2008 (P.L. 110-351). The act expanded eligibility for the program by adding as an additional program purpose that youth who are in foster care on their 16th birthday but who subsequently leave care for adoption or kinship guardianship are eligible for CFCIP service. The law also extended the ETV program to youth who leave care at age 16 or older for kinship guardianship; made tribal entities eligible to apply directly for CFCIP and ETV funds directly from the federal government; and authorized additional supports and services outside of the CFCIP to older youth in care, including providing states the option, beginning in FY2011, to extend Title IV-E foster care to youth ages 18 to 21. In 2010, the program was amended for a third time by the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (P.L. 111-148, PPACA), which requires states to educate youth aging out about the importance of a health care power of attorney.
Along with the CFCIP, federal child welfare law and other federal programs are intended to help older foster youth and recent alumni make the transition to adulthood. The Title IV-E foster care program has protections in place to ensure that older youth in care have a written case plan that addresses the programs and services that will assist in this transition. Further the law that established the CFCIP created a new optional Medicaid eligibility pathway for “independent foster care adolescents;” this pathway is often called the “Chafee option.” Beginning in 2014, eligible young people who emancipate from foster care will be covered under a mandatory Medicaid pathway until age 26, as required under PPACA. Federal law also authorizes funding for states to provide other types of assistance. Further, the Higher Education Act authorizes services specifically for youth in foster care or recently emancipated youth, including education and housing services.
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