DHS DISCUSSES PROVISIONS THAT WILL ALLOW AGED-OUT YOUTH TO RETURN TO FOSTER CARE SERVICES
By Claire Ergood, Pennsylvania Legislative Services | May 19, 2021
This morning, Meg Snead, acting secretary, Department of Human Services (DHS), held a press conference to raise awareness for a provision that will allow youth who aged out of foster care during the pandemic to reenter foster care services.
Sec. Snead explained that over the next few years they expect to see an ongoing discussion on how the pandemic affected children and families. She noted that a child experiencing a pandemic is a trauma that they cannot ignore, even as they emerge from the pandemic. She stated that as May is Foster Care Month, this is the perfect time to discuss the needs of children who cannot live with their families for a period of time. She noted that currently there are about 14,000 children in foster care in Pennsylvania. She stated that they are always in need of people to provide loving homes for children, especially now as they implement changes prescribed by the Family First Prevention Services Act to prioritize family life settings over congregate care settings whenever possible. She explained that in addition to training and support, foster families are reimbursed for the cost of caring for a child. She noted the DHS’s administering of the Unaccompanied Refugee Minor (URM) program and its part in the state’s refugee resettlement program, which attempts to provide culturally and linguistically appropriate foster care. She noted that they are one of 14 states that offer this program and urged those who can or want to provide care to contact the program.
Sec. Snead explained that in many cases youth age out of the system without being adopted. She referenced research that shows that youth who age out or leave foster care without a permanent family connection experience worse outcomes than their peers. She explained that former foster youth are disproportionately represented among young adults experiencing homelessness or unemployment. She explained that Pennsylvania addressed this by making a permanent policy change that affects older youth exiting foster care. She stated that youth exiting the foster care system are now eligible for after-care services until age 23, which previously ended on or after their 21st birthday. She noted that these services include needs assessment and case planning, life skills training, education and prevention services, employment and housing services, and other assistance and services. She stated that this change ensures that all former foster youth, including those who remain in foster care until 21, have access to services to safely and successfully transition to independence. She explained that DHS also extended eligibility for the Chafee Education and Training voucher program, which extends to youth up until their 26th birthday. She noted that this program provides eligible youth with financial support to assist in post-secondary education for up to five years.
Sec. Snead stated that the Consolidated Appropriations Act, 2021 included a provision that allowed youth who left foster care due to age during the COVID-19 pandemic to voluntarily reenter foster care until September 31, 2021. She explained that in addition to reopening care to youth, the act also extended eligibility for after-care services and education and training grants through age 26. She noted how many have struggled to meet their basic needs throughout the pandemic, and this law is intended to help those youth recover by providing welfare agencies with funding and flexibility to reach these urgent needs. She explained that without this additional support, it is very possible that youth who have left the foster care system will become homeless or experience other negative outcomes. She stated that county agencies can provide direct financial assistance to these young adults, including assistance for medical and living expenses.
Norma Cutting, youth ambassador, Pennsylvania Child Welfare Resource Center, noted that she was placed in foster care in 2016 at the age of 15. She explained her experience in foster care and the traumatic experiences she endured. She noted that she had the opportunity to be adopted after she was 18, but faced difficult decisions in deciding what would be best for her. She stated how much the family dynamic ended up meaning to her and her siblings.
When was the reentry program for foster youth first created?
Sec. Snead responded that the Consolidated Appropriations Act was signed into law in December of 2020.
How has the COVID-19 pandemic impacted people signing up to become foster parents?
Carrie Kaiser, Office of Children and Families, responded that during the pandemic there has been an impact on foster and adoptive family recruitment. She noted that they constantly have children in need of a loving home.
What would you tell kids who are in foster care that are looking to get adopted?
Cutting responded that her message to kids in foster care is to be patient and to not rush the adoption process because one day it will just come.
What was the hardest part of this past year?
Cutting responded that the hardest part of this past pandemic year has been getting to know the environment she is living in and trying to make bonds with the people her adoptive family was close to. She noted the difficulty of trying to keep in contact with other youth in foster care.