What State Advocates Can Do: Policy Advocacy in Response to COVID-19 on Behalf of Older Youth in and Aging Out of the Child Welfare System

Jenny Pokempner,
Older youth in care

Young people in and leaving the child welfare system have been hit hard by COVID-19. Many do not have a strong support system in place to help them navigate the crisis or to serve as a safety net as the activities of their lives are disrupted and as they struggle to meet their basic needs. Older youth also may face the reality of aging out at a time of public health crisis when it would be virtually impossible to transition to a safe environment.  

Advocates across the country are working hard to respond to these challenges at the federal and state levels.  To learn more about federal advocacy on behalf of older youth, check out this fact sheet and sign on letter.

We want to share some tips and tools to support your state-based advocacy. There is much that can be done at the state level to help meet the needs of older youth. Advocates are making good progress on getting their Governors, Child Welfare leaders, and lawmakers to take action to respond to the needs of older youth.  For example, Executive Orders have been issued in California, Illinois, and Rhode Island that implement policies that include:

  • Placing a moratorium on discharging youth from foster care during the crisis,
  • Providing additional services to older youth now and following the crisis,
  • Providing expedited processes for re-entry, and
  • Providing additional resources and funds to caregiver to meet the needs of youth.

Importantly, many of these advocacy efforts have been led by young people and alumni of the foster care system, including the Foster Care Alumni of America (FCAA).  The Illinois Chapter of the FCAA wrote the first letter to the Governor of Illinois, which led to an Executive Order that will greatly assist young people in Illinois. FCAA is encouraging State Chapters to lead similar efforts and to partner with other advocacy organizations in these efforts.

Below are a few tools that have been developed and resources to assist advocates in working for reforms in their states:

  1. Examples of State Policy Reforms: This document includes a running list of reforms to consider advocating for in your state that could help meet the needs of older youth during and after the crisis.  This list includes actions that could be taken administratively as well as through legislation or executive order.
  2. Template Letter to State Leaders: This is a template that state advocates can use as a base to build their requests.
  3. State Materials: This is a collection of materials from the states, including letters to the Governor, draft Executive Orders, signed Executive Orders, and state guidance.   
  4. Foster Care Alumni of America: Here is a link to FCAA’s website.  Please check the CHAPTER section to get contact information for the chapter in your state.  

Please contact Jenny Pokempner at jpokempner@jlc.org if you would like more information or assistance with work in your state.

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.