The New Year Brings High Hopes for Extended Care in Ohio

Jennifer Pokempner, Child Welfare Policy Director,
Girl looking up, in front of tress.

On September 13, 2016, Ohio joined the majority of states that have an extended foster care program when Ohio Rev. Code § 5101.1411 became effective. After careful planning for implementation, young people will be able to enroll in the extended care program today, February 1, 2018. Youth and those working with them can find out how to here.

With the kick off to enrollment in Ohio’s extended care program, we are launching our “Doing Extended Care Right” blog series. Each blog will highlight a state that has extended care and promising aspects of its program. We hope this will lead to more conversations and reforms around policies for older youth. 

It is widely accepted that in today’s society and economy, youth need support and guidance through their mid-twenties to make a successful transition to adulthood. Ideally, youth are provided this support in the context of family, but if that is not possible, youth in the child welfare system should have the option of extended care. Extended care provides youth more time to acquire skills, heal, and be connected with family and caring adults.

For most states, the question is not whether extended care should be provided to youth, but to do it in ways that are effective in terms of producing good outcomes, engaging youth, and being age-appropriate. How do we not just extend foster care but provide extended support and services that are “right”?

Ohio’s extended care program, Bridges, contains a lot of elements that have great promise to help young people make a successful transition to adulthood. First, stakeholders, through the development of an advisory council, took time to carefully plan implementation and establish guiding principles and goals for the program. They did not want to just provide young people three more years of foster care; rather, they wanted to provide supports to guide and teach young people. They also wanted to give young people the opportunity to exercise their autonomy and decision-making skills, building opportunities to make mistakes and learn from them. 

The advisory council made its implementation recommendations with the goal of developing a program that:

  1. Is youth-driven;
  2. Promotes the permanent connections and social networks necessary for lifelong success;
  3. Supports the development of an educational foundation and skill set that will enable participants to gain and maintain employment that meets their financial needs;
  4. Ensures that participants reside in safe, stable and secure housing;
  5. Links participants to appropriate services to address physical and behavioral health needs;
  6. Ensures that participants have the daily living skills essential to life-long self-sufficiency; and
  7. Builds skills for self-advocacy.

Second, the program adopted broad eligibility requirements with the goal of making extended care possible for the largest number of youth who wanted to join the program. Bridges adopted all of Fostering Connections eligibility criteria which allows youth to re-enter care if they do decide to leave the system. 

Third, the Bridges program is a program for young adults that is separate from the delivery of child welfare services for youth under age 18 in several ways. The program is run by specific private provider agencies who meet various requirements and have interest and expertise in working with young adults. Case management is done by specially trained staff, and youth enter the program by signing a voluntary placement agreement.

Young people have an array of options for living arrangements, including foster and kinship care, host homes, college dorms, and supervised independent living programs. Young people have repeatedly asked for  the opportunity to practice their adult living skills in a real world setting while also being given support and guidance. The array of living settings and age-specific case management should provide these opportunities.

The Bridges program is state administered, but service delivery is done regionally through grantees who responded to a Request for Grant Applications. One grantee, Child and Family Health Collaborative of Ohio, won the contract in all five regions of the state.

The advisory board for Bridges estimates that 1,500 young adults are eligible for the program and they are expecting to serve at least half on day one. Young adults who aged out of foster care and are members of the Youth Leadership Board of A Place 4 Me, the Jim Casey Youth Opportunities Initiative site in Ohio, wants to make sure information about the program gets to youth and is communicated in a youth friendly way. A plan for outreach and developing youth friendly materials is key to the success of implementing an extended care program. Youth and stakeholders need to know about the program, how it works, and how to enroll to be able to take full advantage of this great opportunity.     

We are excited to see the progress of the program and hope that it can provide models for reform in other states!