National Freeze on Aging Out of Foster Care Will Make ‘Profound Difference,’ New York Advocates Say

Megan Conn , The Imprint •
painting of two children on bridge

Illustration by Christine Ongjoco

Ten months into a deadly pandemic that continues to wreak havoc on society and the economy, a federal relief package bundled extra child welfare money to states with a new rule: You can’t let foster youth age out into adulthood during the ongoing coronavirus emergency. 

The news was welcomed by New York child welfare advocates, who had spent much of the past year appealing to Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) for a statewide moratorium on aging out of foster care during these devastating times, with only modest results. Previously, the most tangible action came in July, when New York child welfare commissioner Sheila Poole directed county social services departments to reallocate existing funds to offer continued placement or other supports to foster youth turning 21 who had “imminent need.”

“I am thrilled that the federal government has made clear that young people should not be leaving foster care just because they turn 21 in the middle of this pandemic, and that they should stay in foster care until they have safe and stable housing,” said Betsy Kramer, director of public policy and special litigation at Lawyers for Children. Kramer also called on the Office of Children and Family Services to provide guidance to counties on how to implement the policy.

The Supporting Foster Youth & Families through the Pandemic Act — part of the more than 5,000-page federal stimulus bill signed into law on Dec. 27 — provided $400 million in new funding for states to use for housing, education, transportation and financial assistance for older youth, including those in extended foster care as well as young adults up to age 27 who have aged out of the system. The law requires that states allow youth to remain in foster care past the standard age cut-off for extended foster care, which is 21 in most states, and also suspends any requirements that youth attend school or work in order to receive the benefits. 

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About the Expert

Jennifer Pokempner is a Senior Attorney at Juvenile Law Center. At Juvenile Law Center, her work focuses on improving outcomes and opportunities for older youth in the foster care system through policy and legal advocacy at the local, state, and national levels.