On April 29, 2020 Foster Success sent this letter to Indiana Governor Eric Holcomb about ways the State can support foster youth during COVID-19.
Dear Governor Holcomb,
We recognize the challenges COVID-19 has placed on you and your administration and appreciate your leadership in this time of crisis. Today, we are writing to commend the work that has been done on behalf of Indiana’s older foster youth and to ask that you take additional action to ensure that we can continue to meet the unique health and safety needs of teens and young adults in Indiana’s child welfare system and their peers who are or have recently transitioned out of care.
Young people in and leaving the foster care system have been hit hard by COVID-19. During a time when many teens and young adults are able to rely on their families for critical support, Hoosiers in foster care must rely on the child welfare system to ensure their safety, health, and well-being. As you know, teens and young adults leaving the care of the child welfare system in Indiana between the ages of 18-21 are among the most vulnerable in our state and that vulnerability has significantly increased during the current public health crisis. Young people have reported: struggling to pay rent, fearing that they will lose their placement or housing, not having sufficient funds for food and being isolated and cut off from emotional support and resources.
In Indiana, on average 240 young people transition out of the state’s child welfare system each year without reunification, adoption or guardianship. They are on their own. And in moments like this, this independent status is more apparent than ever. Data from the past several years shows that, 25% of youth who transition out of foster care, will experience homelessness within two years of exiting and the majority will struggle to maintain employment or complete post-secondary education. The current crisis increases the obstacles that young people face leaving the child welfare system and puts them at a high risk for homelessness, lack of income, instability and illness.
The Indiana Department of Child Services has taken extraordinary steps to meet the needs of and to support these young Hoosiers to date, but more is required to ensure that their needs continue to be met and that the child welfare agencies and youth serving organizations have the support and capacity to serve these youth.
Items already accomplished through the Indiana Department of Child Services include:
- Suspending requirements for extended care related to participation in school, higher education and training, program participation, and treatment.
- Allowing foster care agencies to provide expedited processes for youth to re-enter care that allow their immediate needs to be met.
- Providing flexibility in access to funds to allow youth in foster care who are displaced from a college residential facility to secure housing and other supports in a timely manner. Additionally, the state’s institutions of higher education have supported students who may not have had a stable placement to return to by including them in the small numbers of individuals who have been allowed to stay in campus residence halls even as education delivery has moved to online platforms.
- Allowing young people in Collaborative Care who have recently turned or will soon be turning 21 to continue extended foster care services through the end of this year.
- Providing $5.2 million of its funding for the Community Partners Program.
Today we are asking for your commitment to take the following actions to ensure the health and safety of young people in foster care during and following this unprecedented health crisis:
- Place a moratorium on discharging any youth from extended foster care during this crisis and grant funding to the child welfare agency to provide up to 6 months of continued placement and casework services for youth who have been discharged in the 6 months leading up to this pandemic or who would have been discharged during the crisis or within 6 months of the crisis ending. The Indiana Department of Child Services has put into place options to allow young people who recently have exited and/or are scheduled to exit in the next several months to extend services through extended foster care. Your backing of this action will ensure that there are sufficient funds available and allocated for all young people who choose this option. Young people who do not have the support of family will have an extraordinarily difficult time being able to meet their needs if they are discharged from care during this crisis. Their chance of generating a family-sustaining wage and maintaining safe housing will be almost impossible during this time. Without the safety net of family, these youth will be at great risk of harm, housing insecurity and illness.
- Continue to provide additional funding to Indiana DCS to expand Chafee Aftercare, which is available to support youth who have aged out to meet their immediate basic needs during the crisis and increase funding for the Community Partners Program. Like many Hoosiers, young adults who have left foster care, are now struggling to make ends meet in this time of health and economic crisis. However, as young people with less family and adult support, there are fewer social networks and resources that they can rely on. Some youth may not have a bank account, credit history, or savings.
- Provide additional funds to child welfare agencies and youth serving organizations to increase the number of family-based settings and appropriate living arrangements for older youth. The importance of having family and supportive adult connections to the health and well-being of young people cannot be clearer in this time of global crisis. Child welfare agencies and youth serving organizations must increase their capacity to connect older youth with family and kin, so they are not alone and without support in times of crisis. The state can take immediate action to support child welfare agencies to increase their ability to support caregivers for older youth and provide the staff support to make those settings long-lasting.
- Direct foster care agencies to plan with young people in foster care to ensure they are connected to vital resources, people, and assistance in this time of crisis. Many older youth in foster care feel alone and isolated, lacking critical family and community ties. The COVID-19 crisis has increased this isolation and it is acute for older youth who may be living on their own. If in-person visits with family and agency workers are suspended, child welfare agencies should increase the frequency of virtual visitation with family and virtual check-ins with caseworkers. Agencies must develop plans that are responsive to the youth’s current housing, education, employment, health, and well-being needs. Plans should also include assurances that all youth have access to both internet and smartphones and/or computers, to allow for contact with agency personnel and service providers, telemedicine, educational programming, employment, food, and family and social connections.
Indiana is a leader in serving, partnering with, and supporting youth in and leaving foster care. We urge you to take action so we can continue in that leadership role. DCS and its community partners have made a lot of progress in ensuring that young people are able to make a successful transition to adulthood. This crisis has created many more barriers to success for young people and has brought real risks to their health and futures. This unprecedented crisis does deserve an appropriate response. The state stepped in and took custody of these youth because of abuse or neglect earlier in their lives, and now the state needs to provide stability to these young people during a time of crisis when it is clear that they require more not less support. Like you, our main priority is to keep Hoosiers safe, housed and connected to services and caring adults. We believe that the actions we recommend will help ensure that we achieve these goals – especially for youth in or recently exited from foster care.
Thank you for all that you and your team are doing to support all Hoosiers. We are especially grateful for your work to support Indiana’s older foster youth. Please let us know how we can partner to support and promote your work in this area.
Maggie Stevens, Ed.D
CEO & President
cc: Suzanne Crouch, Indiana Lt. Governor
Terry Stigdon, Director, Indiana Department of Child Services