WASHINGTON, D.C. – At the Ways and Means Work and Welfare Subcommittee hearing on supporting youth aging out of foster care, members heard testimony about the challenges foster youth in America face as they transition into adulthood and ways to improve federal child welfare programs. Every year, around 19,000 foster youth age out of the foster care system often facing unique challenges such as accessing a driver’s license, obtaining and sustaining employment, and completing post-secondary education. Federal child welfare programs, like Title IV-B, Title IV-E, and the John H. Chafee program, provide resources for foster youth to hit those milestones and successfully launch into adulthood, but are fragmented and difficult for youth to navigate. Witnesses, including individuals who went through the foster care system, provided their recommendations on how to improve outcomes for foster youth, including through Title IV-B reauthorization.
Congress Has an Opportunity to Reimagine and Modernize Child Welfare
The Title IV-B program provides flexible funding for states to support family preservation, reunification, adoption and permanency for children in foster care, yet the program is outdated and Congress has not reauthorized it since 2008. Witnesses highlighted that Congress has an opportunity to modernize and streamline the program to make it easier for states to provide support to foster youth. In response to Work and Welfare Subcommittee Chairman Darin LaHood (IL-16), a child welfare expert shared that Title IV-B could be improved to better serve foster youth.
Rep. LaHood: “This subcommittee is working on reauthorizing Title IV-B, which we found is an important flexible funding stream for states, but it’s also outdated and duplicative in some places. I’m curious your opinion on what we can do to make sure Title IV-B is modernized, so it works better for our youth, and particularly foster youth?”
Todd Lloyd, child welfare expert: “There’s things that will echo probably from September when you heard about the opportunities to streamline and make Title IV-B more outcome-based and efficient. We would also suggest the reinvestment and redirecting of federal and state Title IV-E savings from reductions in use of foster care and group home placements into Title IV-B placement. So there’s this relationship between Title IV-E and Title IV-B incentivizing greater performance from both titles.”
Numbers Don’t Lie: Mentorship for Foster Youth Works
A major focus of the hearing was the positive and life-changing impact of mentorship and stable relationships with adults on youth in foster care. In an exchange with Rep. Mike Carey (OH-15), a Pennsylvania foster youth program executive director shared how his mentorship program is making a tangible difference for foster children.
Will Kiefer, foster youth program executive director: “The metric that I think matters most to this discussion is the amount of time that we track that a student and their mentor have at least one face-to-face interaction per month. That’s 38 months on average. So over three years, on average, our individuals are connecting with their mentor. We’ve done that organically. We built a program to make that possible. But there’s no reason that other communities couldn’t do that exact same thing, or that the Committee can’t build our systems to drive that kind of long-term interaction. We certainly have other metrics: 92 percent of the kids who have offended when they’re in the program don’t reoffend. 77 percent of the kids who come into the program with truancy issues start going back to school once they’re in the program…But the point is, those things are not because the kids sat through a six-month mentoring program where we talked to them about life skills. It’s that they had a mentor to say, ‘Alright, now the lessons done. Are you gonna go to school tomorrow? Do you need me to pick you up from your house? Because, if that’s what it takes, that’s what I’ll do.’ That’s the key.”
Helping Foster Youth Break Generational Cycles
Youth who spend time in foster care are 26 percent more likely than their peers to have children who enter the system – creating a generational cycle of child welfare involvement. Rep. Blake Moore (UT-01) highlighted that we need to address this cycle from a prevention forward framework.
Rep. Moore: “Mr. Lloyd, could you just add a little bit more context on evidence of generational cycles where children who were once in foster care, particularly those in child welfare setup, end up involved in the system again when they have their own children, and how can we address this cycle proactively from a prevention-forward perspective?”
Todd Lloyd, child welfare expert: “Young parents need more options to receive support and from trusted sources. 26 percent of young people, older youth who exit foster care, will be parents by age 21. We’re again back to the Nebraska example of how we need to be supporting young parents and young parents who are expectant parents in foster care.”