California Extends Foster Care to Help Reduce Youth Homelessness

written by Sharon McDonald
October 28, 2013

Each year, more than 20,000 youth age out of foster care. Again and again research has shown that many of these young people will end up entering a homeless shelter program – often not long after exiting foster care. In California, they’re doing something about this

California is embarking on an effort that can significantly reduce homelessness among young adults. Specifically, California is taking advantage of opportunities under the federal Fostering Connections to Success and Increasing Adoptions Act. This law allows states to receive resources to extend foster care to youth beyond age 18. California is one of many states that have chosen to do this.

The extension of foster care provides resources and support to help youth remain in stable foster care placements beyond their 18th birthday. It can also be used to support youth in other housing settings that may be appropriate for the young person’s goals and development life stage. This can include transitional housing or supervised independent living (including their own apartment, in shared housing or a college dorm) for youth prepared to live on their own.

Traditionally, a foster care payment is paid to the individual or organization providing foster care to children and youth. Youth who are prepared to live independently in an approved supervised independent living program can receive a foster care benefit directly (approximately $800 a month) which can be used toward the young person’s rent and living expenses.

A critical component of California’s extension of foster care is that it allows youth who were in foster care at age 18 and already exited (or who ran away from care before age 18 but officially remained in foster care) to return to care. This means that youth who have exited foster care in California and have become homeless can seek help from the child welfare agency to reenter care and find a transitional housing placement or other housing placement that meets their needs.

Homeless youth providers can help identify young people experiencing homelessness who may be eligible for extended foster care and can help these young people reconnect to foster care and broker a housing placement that will meet their needs.

It is not clear that extending foster care will end all homelessness for youth who age out of foster care. In fact, the available research seems to indicate that young people who exit foster care at a later age still do become homeless, but at a later age than young people who exit care in states that end foster care at age 18.

But states can innovate and rise to the challenge as California has done. Advocates argue that it is important that when states extend foster care, they do not extend the “same old, same old” services if they want to avoid the “same old same old” outcomes. As they reach age 18 and beyond, youth require more independence, yet continued support, as is appropriate for their developmental stage.

 Youth in foster care at age 18, 19 and 20 require the same kinds of transitional support as they more toward greater independence that many of their peers rely on: help with a place to stay or help paying for living expenses so they can live on their own or in shared housing, support figuring out a household budget, and help from a caring person when dealing with financial and emotional challenges that may come their way.

Former foster youth make up a large segment of the youth who enter homelessness as young adults. The Fostering Connections for Success provides states with new resources and tools to prevent and end homelessness among youth who will age out of foster care. More states can and should take advantage of opportunities to combat homelessness and improve outcomes of youth in foster care as California is doing.