Warner urges administration to prioritize foster youth outcomes in COVID-19 recovery
U.S. Sen. Mark R. Warner (D-VA) led a group of 12 colleagues in urging the Biden administration to work with states, tribes, and territories to prioritize young people in the foster care system, who have been particularly afflicted by the COVID-19 health and economic crisis.
In a letter to the Administration for Children and Families at U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), the senators stressed the disparate outcomes faced by young people in foster care in the areas of educational attainment, employment rates, and earnings, and urged the administration to ensure that states take full advantage of existing flexibilities to mitigate these outcomes.
Joining Sen. Warner in the letter to the Associate Commissioner of the Administration for Children and Families were Sens. Ron Wyden (D-OR), Bob Casey (D-PA), Tim Kaine (D-VA), Maggie Hassan (D-NH), Dianne Feinstein (D-CA), Amy Klobuchar (D-MN), Chris Van Hollen (D-MD), Jack Reed (D-RI), Sherrod Brown (D-OH), Angus King (I-ME), Cory Booker (D-NJ), and Richard Blumenthal (D-CT).
“As efforts to curtail the pandemic prove successful, it is clear that the long-term impacts of the pandemic will be significant. As you continue to work through year-one priorities, we ask that the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) ensure that youth currently in and transitioning out of the foster care system receive the support and resources they need to thrive,” wrote the Senators in a letter to HHS Associate Commissioner Aysha Schomburg. “We also ask that you prioritize implementation of the Family First Prevention Services Act of 2018 to ensure that children, youth, and their families can access a range of services to keep them safely together and prevent unnecessary entry into foster care whenever possible. For circumstances when foster care placement is needed, we request that you work with states, tribes, and territories to ensure that children and youth in foster care have high quality placements and trauma-informed care.”
“The past year has been a difficult time for many. However, the COVID-19 pandemic has highlighted and exacerbated the overwhelming obstacles youth in the foster care system face, particularly the challenges associated with transitioning into adulthood after leaving the system,” they continued. “We believe that if changes are made to strengthen support and the resources for foster youth, they will be better able to realize their goals and become active members of our nation’s workforce.”
Throughout the past year, young people in the foster care system have felt the educational and economic toll of the pandemic at much higher rates than their peers. In fact, a University of Pennsylvania study found that foster youth have lost their jobs during COVID-19 at a rate three times that of the general population. The senators also cited the findings of a longitudinal study, which revealed that by age 23 and 24, one-quarter of youth with experience in foster care did not have a high school diploma or a GED. Additionally, although nearly one third had completed at least one year of college, only 6 percent had completed a 2- or 4-year post-secondary degree.
In the letter, the senators requested that the administration take action to mitigate the effects of COVID-19 on foster youth. Specifically, they asked the administration to:
- Allow title IV-B funds to be used to provide internet and other technology to vulnerable foster youth and families in order to ensure that foster youth do not continue to fall behind in meeting their work and study obligations because they do not have necessary technological tools available to them.
- Work with states to address the impact of the digital divide on foster youth by considering long-term solutions to technology-access challenges that have been exacerbated during the public health emergency, and working with child welfare agencies on context-specific plans to ensure foster youth have resources necessary to participate in online instruction or work virtually.
- Implement a plan to ensure that agencies proactively reach out to foster youth to inform them about benefits related to stimulus checks, unemployment insurance, and other COVID-19-related assistance.
- Help ensure that foster youth and other at-risk youth are aware of and have the resources to take advantage of the extension of the earned income tax credit (EITC) to working youth under age 26 and work toward making the child tax credit (CTC) as accessible as possible. They asked that the Administration make the EITC and the CTC as accessible as possible by working with youth and their families to ensure they are aware of these opportunities. They also asked that the Administration provide flexibility for caregivers of children in the welfare system to claim a dependent.
- Create and implement a plan to ensure that foster youth have access to and are aware of mental health supports. Given the high rates of trauma experienced by foster youth and the increase in reports of mental illness during the pandemic, the senators asked that the administration work to ensure foster youth are provided the necessary mental health resources to support their resilience during this difficult time.
- Commit to working with Congress and states, tribes, and territories to address inequalities in the child welfare system in the U.S. and outline steps to make child welfare programs more equitable by working ensuring better opportunities for foster youth and combat the racial disparities we have known to persist within the system for too long.