In 2007, as a budget savings measure, DCYF care was cut for youth from 18 to 21 years old unless there were extenuating medical or developmental needs. DCYF can reinstitute the option to continue care to age 21 by accessing federal Fostering Connections funding.
"Everyone deserves a shot at a brighter future," said Governor Raimondo. "This commitment will allow older youth, if they choose, to live in a stable housing situation and receive support while they participate in higher education, job training, and as they join the workforce."
Youth who voluntarily extend their care must be in school, working, or in a qualified career development program unless there is a documented medical reason that excludes them from these activities.
"Children deserve stable, loving homes and solid footing as they become independent," said Rhode Island Health and Human Services Secretary Eric J. Beane. "If young people need additional support as they enter adulthood, that help should be available: It should not expire on their 18th birthday. We must remain vigilant in our work to protect and empower those in our care, and I'm proud of the commitment our state is making through this initiative."
Representative Deborah Ruggiero and Senator Louis DiPalma have been champions for this issue and they have introduced legislation for the Voluntary Extension of Care Act. They convened a stakeholder work group, made up of representatives from DCYF, foster youth, community providers, and advocates that met regularly last year to collaborate on ideas about ways in which Rhode Island can better serve youth transitioning from foster care to adulthood. The Rhode Island Family Court was also instrumental in drafting revisions to the statute.
"Any child who is in foster care has already experienced terrible struggles. They deserve so much better than what we're giving them when they age out of the system," said Representative Deborah Ruggiero (D-Dist. 74, Jamestown, Middletown). "They need a more gradual, prepared transition toward independence and it makes fiscal sense for the state to provide it. Let's do what is right for our kids."
"This program gives our kids in foster care the best possible shot to become happy, functional, and productive adults in our society because the data clearly demonstrates that without this program, these kids face tremendous obstacles toward adulthood. These children deserve a fair shot in life, they did not ask for the hardships they have suffered during childhood, and this program can provide the safety net so many of them desperately need," said Senator Louis P. DiPalma (D-Dist. 12, Middletown, Little Compton, Newport, Tiverton).
"Rhode Island KIDS COUNT is in strong support of this policy change because youth who receive tailored, age-appropriate foster care services (education, housing, career training, etc.) beyond age 18 have better outcomes, including higher earned wages, and delayed early pregnancy than youth who age out of foster care at age 18," said Rhode Island KIDS COUNT Executive Director Elizabeth Burke Bryant, "Currently 25 states and DC provide foster care services to youth until age 21 and it will be great to have Rhode Island be among them because it's both cost effective and the best way to ensure successful transitions to adulthood for youth who have been in the state's care."
DCYF will continue to work to ensure that all children and youth in care have a permanent home before they turn 18; however, there is a need to support older youth transition to independent adulthood.
"This extension of care for our older youth is a reminder that children and youth of all ages deserve to live in stable, loving families who can provide support and encouragement," DCYF Director Trista Piccola said, "If you have been contemplating opening your home to a child, now is the time. Here in Rhode Island, we have an immediate need for 250 loving, supportive families for children who are currently in institutional care but who could be better served in a family setting."
In addition to extending support and services for youth up to age 21, DCYF is also working with stakeholders and community leaders to recruit more foster families. With support from the Rhode Island Foundation, DCYF will host a new foster family weekend on March 9th, 10th, and 11th for up to 200 families. To learn more about becoming a foster family or for more information about the weekend event, call 401-952-0262 or visit www.dcyf.ri.gov/anchor.