As an advocate and a young person with child welfare experience, we know that young adults between the ages of 18 to 21 are confronted with a tough reality when their time in foster care comes to an end. The stability and structure that the system provided can no longer be used as a security blanket as they enter “adulthood.” They see significant barriers between them and the next part of their lives. Many must go through this new chapter without family support, safe and stable housing, access to education, employment, and face food insecurity, often re-living the life of trauma they left behind. With the COVID-19 pandemic looming across the states, these risks are amplified. That’s why we are calling on Governor Cuomo to institute a moratorium on aging-out of foster care during the pandemic, and helping older youth re-enter care if they need to.
COVID-19 has separated youth aging out of care from the people and services they need most. It has stretched our child welfare system, separated young people from their schools, interrupted their education and housing, and limited their access to the family courts to have their needs met. The pandemic has caused a complete disruption to young people whom are already living disrupted lives, showing us all that more must be done to support these youth.
Nationally, California, Illinois, Ohio, Rhode Island, and Washington D.C have embraced a moratorium on aging out of foster care, allowing young people to remain during these troubled times. New York should do the same. The state must also streamline reentry into foster care for youth between the ages of 18 to 21 and follow the lead of other states by waiving educational or training/employment requirements.
With Summer programs in New York suspended, young people and families involved in the foster care system need access to technology and internet so that they can stay connected to their families, social workers, teachers, and essential mental health services. Youth in care must be prioritized at the state and local level during the COVID-19 crisis and during our recovery.
Justin is a Youth Advocate at Children’s Defense Fund-NY with experience in the child welfare system. He graduates from Wingate High School in June, was recently awarded the Meringoff Scholarship for his writing, and will be attending Niagara Community College in the fall, with plans to transfer into the Buffalo State University transfer promise program in the fall of 2021 to study psychology.
Melissa is the Youth Justice and Child Welfare Policy Associate at CDF-NY. Her commitment and passion for youth pushes her to advocate for systemic change for children and their families.