Not too old to be abandoned

By Michelle Chen Apr 21, 2009

Older youth in the child welfare system tend to stay out of the public spotlight. Some might say they’re actively ignored. For many of the roughly 26,000 youth who “age out” of foster care each year, an eighteenth birthday is nothing to celebrate. It may plunge them into a mire of instability and poverty, imposed by the very system designed to protect them–a bureaucracy that disproportionately affects youth of color. Drugs, homelessness and mental health problems often follow close behind. But the tanking economy might spur lawmakers to change the outlook for foster-care teens. The Fostering Connections Act on 2008 offered money to let states extend services for transitioning youth, such as education and job training programs, until age 21. The Christian Science Monitor ran an editorial Monday noting that California and other states may be moving toward legislation enabling agencies to take advantage of the federal funds. Generally, child welfare funding in the federal budget declined between 2005 and 2009, according to the advocacy organization First Focus. The stimulus package boosted funds for child welfare-related programs, though much of the money will go toward more conventional (and often controversial) services for placing and maintaining young children in foster care. But the youth at the cusp of child welfare and independence may face the deepest peril in this economic crisis. With so many new families falling into desperation, states can’t afford to force another wave of neglect on children already in their care.