Friday, March 22, 2013

Foster Care Initiative: Extending Stay for Foster Fhildren

Recently an opt-ed piece came out in the Seattle Times where Jim Theofelis wrote about new legislation in Washington that would extend the age at which foster children are forced out of foster care. Presently foster children age out at age 18, but the new law would extend this period until their 21st birthday.

As commendable as this is, one area is being overlooked to help these children have healthy, successful lives once they age out. Chafee, formally called the John H. Chafee Foster Care Independence Program, provides funding to non-profits so they can help children prepare for a life on their own. In many states, foster children are forced out at age 18 so Chafee funds programs starting at age 15. For states with an age out of 21, the funding starts for foster children at age 18.

In the same Op-ed piece, Jim reported that "500 children aged out of foster care in Washington. The National Alliance to End Homelessness estimated that one of every 11 youth from foster care will experience being homeless." Clearly foster children struggle to lead healthy, productive lives once they age out.

There has been so much written about the challenges that 90% of foster children face after aging out: homelessness, drug addiction, incarceration, or victims of crime. Fifty percentage drop out of education once they age out. It's these challenges that have prompted interest in extending the age from 18 to 21. 

One critical, but overlooked problem is that many foster children age out with no ties to family members. Chafee provides no funding for family finding so these children, who despite having relatives, end up on the street with no family connections. This is especially true of Hispanic foster children. State agencies often lack the training and resources to do effective family finding so biological parents and other adult relatives are not located and notified. There are options, but many agencies either push for adoption over family or by omission allow children in
foster care to age out.

Despite the actual good that children derive from Chafee programs, no amount of preparation can counter balance the benefit to a child of having connections with family. This is especially true for Hispanic children whose culture revolves in large part around family. It's time that Chafee was amended to include funding for family finding. The cost is enormous for the children but also on society that has to pay for support systems when these children become homeless or, as in some cases, are put in jail. 

As Judge (Ret.) Leonard P. Edwards as eloquently wrote, "It is my dream that the expanded use of family finding will literally dry up the foster-care system." Foster children deserve whatever effort is required so when they age out, they have an anchor through their family to support them as they grown into adulthood. We can do better!      


Richard Villasana

Richard Villasana
The Mexico Guru
Find Families In Mexico

Proud to be listed on the Child Welfare website.

PS. For more tips and advice about family finding in Mexico, follow us on Facebook at Family Finding MX. Click here if your agency or organization has a case requiring family finding services to identify and locate biological family members in Mexico.
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