Spurred By New Federal Law, CA and Other States Help Improve Outcomes for Foster Youth
By Casey Schutte
In October 2008, President George W. Bush signed into law one of the most significant pieces of child welfare legislation in more than a decade. The Fostering Connections to Success and Increasing Adoptions Act seeks to improve outcomes for foster children by supporting relatives who care for foster youth, extending foster care from age 18 to 21, and easing foster children’s transition from care. The Act also provides for tribal foster care and adoption access, and incentives for adoption.
A key provision of the Act expands the scope of federal funding for states to care for older children after they turn 18. This expansion is in response to mounting evidence that extending care to age 21 leads to better outcomes for foster youth in areas such as educational achievement, earning potential, and housing stability. Starting Oct. 1, 2010, the Act gives state and county child welfare agencies the option to claim federal Title IV-E funding1 to help support children age 18 to 21 who are in foster care or kinship guardianship arrangements2, or who are adopted. Currently, federal funding generally ends when children turn 18, except for children with disabilities and children in foster care who are likely to graduate high school or a similar program before their 19th birthday.3
The Congressional Budget Office has estimated that extending IV-E eligibility to age 21 will cost $735 million from 2011 to 2018. To receive federal funding under the Act, state child welfare agencies must submit an amended IV-E plan to the federal Administration for Children and Families. The plan must outline applicable statutes, regulations, policies and procedures that bring the agency into compliance with the Act’s requirements for funding. Agencies cannot receive funding without an amended plan, but there is no deadline for the plan’s submission.
The availability of federal funds for older children will affect states in a variety of ways, particularly in light of the wide range of existing state policies on caring for older children. States that already provide services for children up to age 21 could see a substantial increase in federal child welfare funding from the Act, with no additional state expenditures. For states that currently end care at 18, federal money will soften the economic blow of taking on the responsibility of caring for older children. Various studies have found long-term economic benefits to states that extend care and services4, but as is often the case with the extension of social service programs, the short-term costs to government are readily quantifiable while the long-term benefits are less certain and harder to measure.
Currently, a majority of states end care at age 18 and many of these states have not yet chosen to move toward extending support to age 21. Since passage of the Act, at least a dozen states, including California, have proposed or passed legislation to extend care.5 Given the difficult fiscal situation in many of those states, the decision to extend care reflects how strongly state legislators and youth advocates believe in the importance and benefits of extending support beyond age 18.
States can obtain federal money for only those older foster youth who meet at least one of the following vocational requirements, as determined by the child welfare agency:
- The youth is in the process of completing secondary education or a program leading to an equivalent credential.
- The youth is enrolled in an institution that provides post-secondary or vocational education.
- The youth is participating in a program or activity designed to either promote employment or remove barriers to employment (for example, Job Corps or classes on resume writing and interview skills).
- The youth is working at least 80 hours per month.
- The youth is incapable of doing any of the above because of a medical condition.
In addition, federal funding is available only to those older foster youth who are placed in a licensed foster family home, a child-care institution, or a supervised setting in which the youth is living independently. The youth does not have to stay in the same placement he or she lived in as a minor, and foster youth who exit care but then wish to reenter are still eligible for federal funding.
Federal funding for kinship guardianship and adoption assistance beyond age 18 is limited to those children for whom an adoption or guardianship agreement became effective after the youth turned 16. This limitation does not apply to disabled youth, as states are allowed to claim federal dollars for all disabled youth up to age 21.
Fostering Media Connections tries to change the narrative about foster care and spur reform.
California: Fostering Connections with AB 12
California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger recently signed Assembly Bill 12 (AB 12), the California Fostering Connections to Success Act. AB 12 tracks the federal legislation in giving foster children who meet the vocational requirements outlined above the option of staying in foster care until age 21. It also extends adoption assistance and kinship guardianship assistance payments up to age 21 for children who meet the vocational requirements and whose caregivers entered the adoption or guardianship agreement before the child’s 16th birthday. The Urban Institute estimated that each year in California about 2,500 youth who would otherwise have aged out will remain in foster care until age 19, and 1,300 will remain in care until age 21. Because the law lets youth choose whether to remain in care, it is difficult to predict how many will do so.
AB 12 was authored by Assembly Members Jim Beall, Jr. (D-San Jose) and Karen Bass (D-Los Angeles). The bill had widespread institutional support, including sponsorship by the County Welfare Director’s Association of California, the Service Employees International Union, and the Judicial Council of California, among others.6 According to the Legislative Analyst’s Office, full implementation of the program extending care is expected to cost the state anywhere from $5 million to $41 million.7 The bill was amended to save money by delaying the effective date of implementation from October 1, 2010 to January 1, 2012.
The bill is “positive on the results side because we’re going to get good results for the lives of foster youth, and it’s a positive on the fiscal side because we’re actually going to get more federal money and have a more cost effective and better program that will not have a negative fiscal impact on the budget,” said Assembly Member Beall.
It is estimated that it will cost close to $38,000 per youth to extend foster care to 21, and there will be a return of more than $2 for every $1 spent on extending foster care, with most of those benefits going directly to the recipients. County child welfare agencies will incur costs directly, given that the funding breakdown for IV-E eligible youth in California is 50 percent federal, 20 percent state, and 30 percent county, and this is a cause for concern in some counties. San Diego County, for instance, wrote to the Senate Judiciary Committee expressing concern about its ability to fund the foster care extension provision. The county estimated that 230 of its 300 youth who age out of foster care each year would qualify for care beyond age 18, and the county’s cost for an additional three years for 230 youth would be $9 million.
Washington State: Fostering Connections in Hard Financial Times
Other states have tackled the question of whether to extend care in recent years. In June 2006, Washington’s House Bill 2002 (HB 2002) took effect and extended foster care support services to age 21 for as many as 150 youth completing a post high school academic or vocational program. HB 2002 passed at a time when Washington’s economy was on the rise and, given the cap at 150 participants, the program was expected to cost only $1.35 million annually – a much lower price tag than that associated with California’s AB 12.
Washington’s Foster Care to 21 program, the outgrowth of HB 2002, showed impressive early results. The Washington State Institute for Public Policy examined outcomes for youth entering the program between July 2006 and September 2008 and found that program participants had higher educational attainment levels, lower arrest rates, and lower rates of public assistance use than a selected comparison group of individuals who did not enroll in the program. The Institute calculated a benefit of $5.16 for each dollar invested in the program, with most of those benefits going directly to the recipients. There was also a specific benefit of $1.35 to the taxpayer for each dollar invested, suggesting the program provides a financial benefit to the state and taxpayers.
In 2009, Washington expanded the scope of its assistance to older children in the wake of the federal Fostering Connections to Success and Increasing Adoptions Act with the passage of House Bill 1961 (HB 1961). HB 1961 added adoption assistance and guardianship payments for children up to age 21 and modified the state’s vocational requirements for assistance payments to track the federal Act. The bill’s passage came during much tougher economic times than HB 2002, and the text of the bill specifically states that services are limited by the amount of funding appropriated directly for the program. The fiscal note accompanying HB 1961 estimated that federal funding would allow the state to expand its Foster Care to 21 program from 150 to 203 participants at the existing appropriation levels of $1.35 million. The note also estimated an additional cost of $80,000 for adoption assistance payments for each cohort of exiting youth, given the addition of an estimated 23 eligible youth each year.
To receive funding under the federal Act, however, the state must implement a program that does not set a numerical cap on the number of participants. To implement such a program while working within current budgetary constraints – Washington’s Children’s Administration received $349,000 for 2010 and $629,000 for 2011 to implement HB 1961 – the state may have to end services at age 19 or 20 or place additional restrictions on eligible vocational activities. Either option could require additional legislation.
“We have a supportive legislature and supportive agencies, we are just trying to get this passed with the current fiscal situation,” said Casey Trupin, staff attorney with Columbia Legal Services, an organization working in Washington to implement the Fostering Connections Act.8
Washington’s obstacles in implementing a program to extend assistance and receive federal funding under the Act may foreshadow difficulties with AB 12 in California, where the costs will be much higher. For example, San Diego County’s estimated cost of implementing AB 12 dwarfs the amount of funding appropriated for Washington’s HB 1961.
Tennessee: Extending Care to Age 21
Like Washington, Tennessee recently passed legislation to extend foster care services to age 21 despite tough economic times. House Bill 3114 (HB 3114) passed both the Senate and the House with unanimous votes and took effect on July 1, 2010 as the Transitioning Youth Empowerment Act of 2010. Before HB 3114, Tennessee juvenile court’s jurisdiction ended when the child turned 18, except in limited circumstances in which courts could extend their jurisdiction to age 19.
The situation in Tennessee is similar to Washington’s in terms of the size of Tennessee’s planned program and its fiscal problems. Due to Tennessee’s 2011 budget gap of $1 billion, or 9.8 percent of its total budget, HB 3114 emerged from the state legislature significantly pared down from the original bill. HB 3114 as introduced did not place a cap on the number of participants in the program and would have required an estimated $14 million in state expenditures for the 2010 to 2011 fiscal year – and it would have required higher amounts in subsequent years. The fiscal memorandum accompanying the final amended bill assumes that the Department of Children’s Services will cap the program at 250 participants and will not be required to opt in to the federal Fostering Connections Program. The bill carries a price tag of close to $1.8 million for the 2010 to 2011 fiscal year. This figure assumes the state will receive federal matching funds, however, and it is not clear how the state will receive those funds with a participant cap and without opting in to the federal program.
The bill was also amended to eliminate language pertaining to the Transitioning Youth Empowerment Act being subject to the availability of funds and replaced it with a provision repealing the Act on June 30, 2012. This calls into question the future of the program, particularly if Tennessee’s budget situation does not improve. HB 3114’s primary sponsor, Representative Sherry Jones, acknowledged this uncertainty, saying “We don’t want to do away with the program but don’t know what our budget’s position is going to be.”
The federal Act’s overall impact remains to be seen, particularly in light of the fact that most states have yet to pass legislation to take advantage of federal funding and extend support for youth to age 21. In California, Assembly member Beall is clear about what’s at stake with that extension, saying it has been “conclusively proven that most foster youth are not ready to be totally independent when they’re 18. They need state assistance beyond the age of 18 to have the most positive outcomes in their lives.” The question now is whether other state legislators agree, and whether they will be successful in finding the necessary approval and funding to extend support to youth beyond age 18.
Casey Schutte was a 2010 summer intern at NCYL, working with Senior Attorney Bill Grimm on child welfare issues. He is in his second year at Berkeley Law. Casey also has an MSW from the University of Wisconsin-Madison and worked as a social worker for a treatment foster care agency in Milwaukee, WI.
1. The actual amount of federal IV-E assistance each state receives is based on the Federal Medical Assistance Percentages (FMAP), which for fiscal year 2011 range from 50 percent to 75 percent. A complete table of FMAP percentages for individual states is available from the Department of Health and Human Services at http://aspe.hhs.gov/health/fmap11.htm.
2. According to the Act, kinship guardianship assistance is targeted to “grandparents and other relatives who have assumed legal guardianship of the children for whom they have cared as foster parents and for whom they have committed to care on a permanent basis.”
3. Federal funds for older youth are currently available through the John H. Chafee Foster Care Independence Program, but federal Chafee funds are a limited, fixed amount rather than an uncapped entitlement like federal IV-E funds under the Fostering Connections Act.
4. Children’s Advocacy Institute. (2007). Expanding Transitional Services for Emancipated Foster Youth: An Investment in California’s Tomorrow. San Diego, CA.; Washington State Institute for Public Policy. (2010). Extending Foster Care to Age 21: Measuring Costs and Benefits in Washington State. Olympia, WA.; Courtney, M.E., Dworsky, A., & Peters, C.M. (2009). California’s Fostering Connections to Success Act and the Costs and Benefits of Extending Care to 21. Seattle, WA: Partners for our Children.
5. Summaries of state legislation proposed in response to the federal Act can be found from the American Bar Association at http://www.abanet.org/child/empowerment/fca_state_bills_chart_4_3_09.pdf and the National Conference of State Legislatures at http://www.ncsl.org/default.aspx?tabid=20264.
6. Also sponsoring AB 12: Alliance for Children’s Rights; California Alliance of Child and Family Services; Children’s Law Center of Los Angeles; California Youth Connection; John Burton Foundation for Children Without Homes.
7. The Legislative Analyst’s Office also provided estimates for more immediate costs related to implementing AB 12 but the bill has since been amended so those figures are no longer accurate.
8. Columbia Legal Services and the National Center for Youth Law are plaintiffs’ counsel in Braam v. State of Washington (litigation that resulted in a comprehensive settlement to improve the foster care system, which is now being implemented).