Newsweek reports on the myriad problems of the more than 25,000 foster youth in the United States who “age out” of the social welfare system at age 18 every year, with no family or support network to rely on. Within two years of emancipation, half of Los Angeles County’s foster youth will be unemployed, one fifth will be homeless and a quarter will have been to prison, according the Children’s Law Center. Similar fates can be expected across the country for many of the 500,000 children who call the state their parents.
But a law signed by President Bush in the waning days of his administration could radically change the futures of these children. The Fostering Connections to Success and Increasing Adoptions Act of 2008 offers states matching federal funds to extend care to age 21 for all foster youth who choose to stay in the system after their 18th birthday. What’s meant by “care” would vary state by state, but could include extending Medicaid coverage to age 21 (which about 20 states now do), providing housing vouchers or access to group homes, vocational training, educational funding and psychological counseling services. Research released this week suggests that the approach makes financial sense for a government weighed down by the costs of incarceration, welfare, Medicaid and homelessness incurred by former foster youth.