Kids Count, the statewide children’s policy organization, today called upon the Rhode Island State legislature to restore foster care services to youth from 18 to 21, a population that Kids Count believes is at significant risk for failure in schools and the workplace, and more likely to engage in criminal activity.
The recommendation was among a series of suggestions rolled out today at a press conference unveiling the organization’s 2017 Issue Brief: Adolescents in the Child Welfare System in Rhode Island.
“All teens need safety and consistency in their physical, emotional, and social environments and require stable and nurturing relationships with adults and/or caregivers to help them navigate life and grow into thriving and productive young adults,” the report said. “Teens in the child welfare system often have complex trauma histories and have experienced physical, emotional or sexual abuse, family violence, incarceration of a parent, systemic trauma, and/or neglect.”
Speaking specifically about 18 to 21-year old’s, Kids Count said that “compared to their peers in the general population, youth who age out of foster care at age 18 face poor outcomes in employment, educational attainment, access to health care, safe and stable housing, and criminal justice involvement. Without permanency or stable adult connections, they often have to navigate the transition to adulthood on their own.”
Rhode Island had included 18 to 21-year old’s in the foster care system until July 2007, when the age limit was lowered to 18, except for youth with serious emotional disturbances, autism, or functional developmental disabilities, according to Kids Count.
If kept in the system, Kids Count believes that those above 18 will have better outcomes, including higher wages and delayed pregnancy.
Kids Count said that currently 25 states, plus Washington D.C., provide foster care services to youth until 21.
The recommendation was among several the organization made that range from better placement for youths within the system to meeting the needs of LGBTQ youth, and restoring funding to the Department of Children Youth and Families to previous levels.
The report also details “out of home” placements, noting that it is more likely for minorities to be sent to group homes or residential facilities than into foster care. In fiscal year 2017, Kids Count said that 45.2 percent of Blacks and 39.7 percent of Hispanic children were placed in group homes or residential facilities, compared to 27.8 percent of white children.
The report also said that in 2016 there were nearly 3,000 children who were victims of child abuse and neglect, with 79 percent of those victims of neglect, 13 percent physical abuse, 4 percent sexual abuse, 1 percent medical neglect, 1 percent emotional abuse, and 2 percent other.
It also noted that nationwide one of the “most concealed forms of child abuse is “domestic minor sex trafficking.” In Rhode Island, the report said, “medical providers have observed an increase in the number of children and youth referred for domestic minor sex trafficking evaluation.”
More information is available on the Kids Count web page: www.rikidscount.org.