All kids deserve to enter adulthood with the tools they need to succeed. One bill in the current legislative session puts those tools in more kids’ hands.
Each year, about 400 Washington children leave the state’s foster care system when they turn 18 without having been reunited with their biological families or adopted.
H.B. 1128 (and its companion in the Senate, S.B. 5245) allows these kids to extend their time in foster care for one year – one year for them to stay in their current housing situation while they gain the skills they need as adults.
Youth aging out of the foster care system deserve the same care, support and resources as children preparing to leave the homes of loving parents. We cannot release these kids to the streets at 18 if they request and need our support. Would you do that to your own child?
Extending foster care services for these kids now will also save everyone money down the road. According to a University of Chicago study, participants who live in transitional youth housing programs are less likely to become homeless, engage in criminal behavior, or become parents at an early age. They’re more likely to graduate from high school or get a GED and attend college. Those are the hallmarks of self-sufficiency that we can all be proud of.
Foster children are our collective responsibility. We have all too frequently failed them. Most alumni of the foster care system in the Northwest face real problems gaining economic independence, an education or the mental health needed to pursue either, according to a 2005 study by Casey Family Programs. Since black and Native American children are put into the child welfare system in rates all out of proportion to their makeup in the general population, these failures harm children of color more frequently than white children.
In leading the effort to pass this bill, our friends at The Mockingbird Society are standing up for youth like Melody Esteves, who says:
“I was in foster care for more than four years. When I exited care I was unprepared and without a safe place for my son and I to live. The Independent Youth Housing Program gave me a safe place to live so I am now able to work, care for my son and make progress toward my life goals for both of us.”
Let’s celebrate a young person’s 18th birthday as a milestone near the point of self-sufficiency, not an occasion to send her empty-handed into adulthood.
HB 1128 will be heard Thursday, Jan. 27 at 8 a.m. by the Early Learning and Human Services Committee in the O’Brien Building on the Capitol Campus. To support it and read more, see the Mockingbird Society's advocacy agenda.