Saturday, April 1, 2023

COVID assistance for thousands of foster children has expired. Will legislators update it?

Former adopted children are among the most vulnerable people during a pandemic. They are already at greater risk of homelessness and poverty, lawyers say, especially those who have grown old during the pandemic.

A federal COVID-19 relief package, passed in December 2020, has helped support more than 40,000 former foster children, according to Think of Us, a national think tank focused on child protection policy. The measure included additional incentive money and extended perks that helped them survive during the pandemic.

This aid, however, ended on September 30, and as the pandemic continued, many former foster youths faced new challenges. Foster children leave foster homes at age 18, but in most states they can stay in the system until age 21, and some have extended “aftercare” for a few more years.

“Even before the pandemic, the system was never ready for young people to be ready for adulthood,” said Ryan Young, 20, a former foster child who wrote an open letter to lawmakers a few days earlier asking for an extension of the aid package. … it has expired.

“To be honest, it was difficult to navigate – before just trying to get out of foster care, try to become an adult on your own, and just go to college and go to work at the same time and deal with the global pandemic,” Young said.

In late October, the House of Representatives unanimously passed legislation that will restore pandemic support to former foster youth. Defenders hope that the Senate will also approve the measure to keep the gap in provisions as small as possible.

Overall, the pandemic has hit many young people hard, forcing some to seek support from their parents. According to the Pew Research Center, 52 percent of young people aged 18-29 lived with at least one parent in July 2020 amid the pandemic. A year earlier, the figure was 47 percent – the largest proportion of young people living with their parents since the Great Depression. Foster children who dropped out of the system during the pandemic faced the crisis with less support.

READ MORE: Why child welfare experts fear spike in abuse during COVID-19

“Most children, even when they are in their early 20s, still receive money or benefits from their parents or help from their parents. And the state is the same for foster children, ”said Nedal Al-Kazakhi, who grew up in Nebraska’s foster care system and is now an advocate for foster families. “When you take this funding, I say, ‘Okay, this is all I ever knew.”

The 23-year-old al-Kazakhs were working as a server when they first hit the coronavirus. The restaurant she worked in closed, and when she reopened, business was minimal – as was her tip. She had been hoarding her savings for years, but to survive the pandemic, she emptied them before completely depleting her credit cards. The pandemic aid package helped her cover some of the payments, she said.

Al-Kazakhi said the relief from the pandemic helped her pay those monthly payments “and feel like I’m doing something.”

How COVID Aid Funding Helped

As part of the pandemic response package, $ 400 million has been earmarked for expanded assistance and benefits for current and former foster youth. This prevented young people from losing systemic benefits if they grew old during the pandemic, and expanded financial assistance to include former foster youth under the age of 27. It also increased funding to provide vehicles for current and former foster children and relaxed some of the benefit requirements.

Additional help came to Spencer Llewelyn just in time. In November 2019, Llewelyn turned 18. It was his final year of high school, and he was thrilled with prom and college. He paid the rent for his foster family, but saved up money from a barista job to help him move on to an independent life.

Then the coronavirus pandemic broke out.

After graduation, Llewelyn couchsurfed with friends until he found roommates and took a job at Target. But Llewelyn said too many people were hired for the holiday season and he was fired.

Llewelyn began receiving a monthly stipend of $ 700 when he turned 18 – Arizona’s policy to help elderly foster children – but the amount is reduced by $ 50 every six months. At 19, he now makes about $ 550 a month.

Federal aid to fight the pandemic helped Llewelyn pay bills as he continued his studies at a local college and looked for a new job.

Llewelyn said he was grateful for the support, but the process of accessing resources can be frustrating.

Barriers to funding

Foster parenting programs are run by states, local or private organizations, and most do not track youth contact information after they leave the system. Experts and human rights activists told PBS NewsHour that this can make it difficult for former foster young people to receive benefits or even know they exist. According to the National Institute of Foster Youth, about 23,000 young people are exited annually.

From the age of 18, when the system ceases to support them, young people living in foster care have a variety of opportunities and resources to help them learn to live independently. A 2019 study by Child Trends, the child well-being research group, found that young people who sought extra care before age 21 were three times more likely to be enrolled in school, nearly three times less likely to experience homelessness as aging and generally see better results than those who do not have access to advanced health care.

But, according to Child Trends, the opportunity to stay in the system is underutilized. Former foster children in care also said that accessing resources can still be difficult, in part because social workers may not notify them of resources or documents can be long and full of jargon.

While thousands of former foster young people have been able to receive help from the pandemic, thousands of others have not received it at all. According to Think of Us, more than 800,000 former foster youths were eligible for initial funding for the pandemic, but only about 16,000 had signed up for it by the end of August – a month before the end of the program.

Sixto Cancel, CEO of Think of Us, said the organization was able to reach approximately 30,000 young people across 30 states who were eligible for assistance by the end of September using local and national partners. He said states are struggling to distribute aid for a variety of reasons, including a lack of timely instructions from the federal government on how to use the money, or states that keep inaccurate records of birth dates and names. …

Each state manages foster families differently – some have systems for each county, some have one large system for the entire state, and others depend on private agencies. It is difficult to adopt a universal measure of child protection, advocates say, and leaves children aging outside the system with fewer resources.

Al-Kazakhi herself only became aware of the funding of the pandemic because it was announced in an email addressed to the advisory board of the Nebraska Children’s Family Foundation, in which she sits. Al-Kazakhi said she most likely would not have known about the funding, and perhaps she could not have stabilized her finances as quickly as she did.

Young people raised in foster care may struggle to cope with adulthood because they lack vital support.

“For those young people who are 23 and older, we have been away from foster families for a long time,” said Latizia Aossi, a 25-year-old child behavior specialist, advocate and former member of the foster family. “Unless you have continued to be actively involved in advocacy or in contact with your employee, you probably rarely ever knew about the services.”

READ MORE: Foster children and caregivers face new pressures from coronavirus

Ossie said the extra payments helped her pay bills and pay off debt, but more help is needed to adequately support aging foster youth – regardless of the pandemic. She said that after-sales care services should be expanded across the country and that young people aging outside the system should be properly aware of what resources they are missing out on if they decide to leave entirely at 18.

According to the National Institute of Foster Youth, one in four young people leaving a foster family will become homeless within four years, and they are more likely to be in contact with the criminal justice system and live in poverty. Lawyers said access to this pandemic help helped the former foster youths escape hardship.

How human rights defenders want the system to work

Marie Zemler Wu, chief executive of Foster America, said the pandemic relief package highlights efforts that can be seen as first steps towards changing the system for the better. Young people should be able to receive longer-term support and have equal access to the resources that parents often provide to their children – health care, financial assistance, education and, ultimately, social protection, she said.

Santa Clara County, California, recently took steps to scale up a pilot program that gave former foster children a universal basic income of $ 1,000 a month to help them weather the pandemic.

Melanie Jimenez Perez, project manager, said the district is considering expanding the program to continue the post-pandemic. She said that young people who had earned an additional income “stopped worrying about the next meal and where they were going to sleep, to talking about mortgages, cars and other things, about basic needs for things that are necessary so that they can move forward with their lives. “

Child protection advocates say additional financial support is just one necessary measure to give children growing up in foster care the support they need.

“There are many ways, emotionally and financially, for children to continue to rely on important adults, especially their parents,” Zemler Wu said. “Young people who are leaving the foster care system. [simply need] an equal experience in relation to their peers who are not in foster care. This is what is needed in politics and practice on the normal path to adulthood. “

Nation World News Desk
Nation World News Desk
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