Help available to youths aging out of foster care amid pandemic
Megan Henry, Columbus Dispatch, February 9, 2020.
Roman Sandhu entered foster care when he was 15 and was emancipated after he graduated from Findlay High School in northwest Ohio in 2019. He said the foster care provisions in the relief package passed by Congress in December will help emancipated young people like himself.
After aging out of foster care when he was 18, Jonathon Thomas was homeless for about a half-year, couch-surfing at his friends' homes.
“I had no biological family,” he said. “I just had nothing.”
Thomas eventually reconnected with the foster family that he had lived with in Bowling Green in northwest Ohio for about two years, but he wishes he had more support in making the transition to living on his own.
More:Dave Thomas Foundation aims to match every foster child with a forever family
“When you find yourself making mistakes, as all young people do, and then there’s nothing for you … you’ll give up on yourself,” said the now-25-year-old. “You give up on life. You think nobody cares.”
Helping foster youth transition into independent living
Two measures intended to help foster care youth — the Supporting Foster Youth and Families through the Pandemic Act and Fostering Stable Housing Opportunities Act — were included in the Consolidated Appropriations Act 2021 signed by then-President Donald Trump in late December.
The $2.3 trillion spending bill combines $900 billion in stimulus relief for the COVID-19 pandemic with a $1.4 trillion omnibus spending bill for the 2021 federal fiscal year.
The measures were passed at a time when more than half of Americans under 30 have moved back home with their parents, something many of these young adults who aged out of the foster care system can't do.
The Fostering Stable Housing Opportunities Act allows foster care youth to sign up for public housing assistance before they turn 18.
Jonathon Thomas entered foster care in northwest Ohio in 2010 when he was 14. He said he wishes there was more guidance and assistance to help him with the transition to adulthood when he was aging out of foster care.
The hope is it will allow for more places to open like the Marsh Brook Place, a 40-unit apartment complex on the Southeast Side for young people ages 18 to 24 who have faced homelessness or other serious barriers to stability, said Rep. Steve Stivers, a Columbus Republican and co-sponsor of the bipartisan act. Sen. Sherrod Brown, an Ohio Democrat, also sponsored the bill.
All or most of the rent for each tenant at Marsh Brook Place, depending on whether they have any income, is covered through federal subsidies.
About 25% of former foster youths experience homelessness within four years of being emancipated from the foster care system, according to the National Foster Youth Initiative, headquartered in Los Angeles.
Almost 1,000 young people age out of foster care each year in Ohio, according to the Children's Defense Fund-Ohio. In Franklin County, 178 youths emancipated out of foster care in 2020, according to Ohio Department of Job and Family Services.
The act would allow foster kids who age out of the system to receive a public housing voucher for up to five years, allowing them to get on their feet and find a job or go to college as they make a transition to an independent adult life.
“I believe with these resources that each and every foster youth will be able to navigate themselves successfully throughout adulthood,” Thomas said.
What would Supporting Foster Youth and Families do?
Supporting Foster Youth and Families would also help older foster youth struggling during the pandemic. Under the provision:
- States cannot require someone to leave foster care due to turning 18 or 21.
- States must notify young people about the moratorium on aging out of foster care and how to reconnect with support services.
- States can provide extended foster care — such as Bridges, Ohio’s extended foster care program, using IV-E funds until they turn 22. Bridges provides some guidance and support for 18- to 20-year-olds who are emancipated from foster care and are in school, working or participating in an employment program.
- A temporary increase in federal Chafee funding to support current and former foster youth in their transition to adulthood. Former foster youth are eligible for Chafee until they turn 27 and funds can be used for immediate needs, including housing, food support, and cash assistance.
“The aging out process is really a tough period for foster children,” said Rep. Danny Davis, an Illinois Democrat and sponsor of the bill. “You’re too young in some instances to be considered a certain way and yet if you age out, you no longer have the protection of government entities.”
The provisions, however, are set to expire at the end of the federal fiscal year on Sept. 30.
"As long as COVID-19 exists and it’s having the impact of everything that it is impacted, we want to keep these children in the safety zone in the safety net," Davis said.
Roman Sandhu is now able to stay with Ohio's Bridges Programs until he is 22.
“Having a relief package like that was a big boost to my morale," said the 20-year-old. “It’s very comforting and it’s a lot of relief and stress off my shoulders."
Sandhu entered the foster care system when he was 15and emancipated after he graduated from Findlay High School in northwest Ohio in 2019.
“It was a pretty major adjustment,” he said.
Sandhu went from living in a group home with other foster youths to living on his own and having to fend for himself. When COVID-19 hit, he temporarily lost his factory job so he started dipping into his savings to make ends meet, he said.
The Bridges program has helped him save money since then and he is now attending the University of Findlay. He wants to go into law enforcement and dreams of one day becoming a deputy sheriff.