STATE HOUSE – Rep. Deborah L. Ruggiero (D-Dist. 74, Jamestown, Middletown) and Sen. Louis P. DiPalma’s (D-Dist. 12, Middletown, Little Compton, Newport, Tiverton) legislation (2017-H 5807 / 2017-S 0669) that would create a young adult voluntary extension of care program to extend the age of foster care from age 18 to age 21 have been heard by the House Committee on Finance and the Senate Committee on Judiciary. The program would offer a range of programs and services to ensure successful transitions to independence and adulthood for young adults in foster care.
“The negative outcomes of youth exiting foster care at age 18 include an increase of welfare expenditures, higher costs of incarceration, lost wages due to unplanned pregnancies and incarceration, and homelessness. By extending care to 21 year olds, it would not only be the most compassionate thing we can do as a society for these young adults, but it is also the most fiscally prudent for the taxpayers of the state. Let’s do what is right for our kids and stop paying for failure,” said Representative Ruggiero.
“This bill 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 DiPalma.
Rhode Island previously offered extended care to foster children up to 21 years old but the program was scaled back to 18 years old in 2007.
“This program is important because approximately 125 to 150 youth exit the care of DCYF each year without permanency or support, while facing challenges in meeting their needs for health care, education, employment, housing and emotional supports,” said Elizabeth Burke Bryant, Executive Director of RI Kids Count.
“If this bill passes, on July 1, 2018, we will be able to proudly look into the eyes of youth in foster care and offer a guarantee that they will be cared for as they make the exciting and challenging transition into adulthood and after going through so much in their lives, that is a guarantee we should be making to these children,” said Lisa Guillette, Executive Director of Foster Forward.
“If you extend foster care to 21, it will give youth a chance to transition home when they’re ready, if that option is available to them. For their peers who do not have a home to go to it will give them time to develop relationships with supportive adults, finish high school and work on their resume.” said Blanca Merced, Vice President of The Voice Youth Leadership Board.
The legislation calls for a voluntary, age appropriate, court-supervised program of services and resources to be implemented by July 2018. The proposal is specifically designed for young adults to maximize their self-determination and support their movement toward self-sufficiency. The bill does not hold young adults in the same system that they were in as children, but incorporates national best practice to meet their needs as emerging young adults.
Twenty-four states including Connecticut, Massachusetts, Maine, Nebraska, Ohio, and California have extended their systems of care to 21 with similar initiatives.