About 500 people “age out” of the state’s foster care system every year. Within their first year as adults, about a third of these people experience homelessness, according to the Department of Social and Health Services (DSHS).
A new law passed by the Washington Legislature is designed to prevent this. Under existing law, foster kids who are in school or training programs can continue to receive housing support, case work and legal support until they’re 21 through the state’s extended foster care system.
The state started extended foster care in 2006, and over the years has extended it to young adults in the foster care program who are in college or employment training programs. This year, the legislature expanded the program to include people who are working at least 80 hours a month.
Extended foster care has been growing since 2006, said Jim Theofelis, executive director for The Mockingbird Society, a nonprofit that advocates for foster kids. The program started because hundreds of kids each year were leaving foster homes only to become homeless.
In some cases, Theofelis said, students avoided finishing high school so they could stay in foster care as long as possible. Young adults age out of the program once they are 18 and have a high school diploma.
Prior to founding The Mockingbird Society, Theofelis was a mental health counselor who worked with foster kids. He would at times advise his clients to not finish high school so they could continue to get state foster support.
“We essentially trained these kids to underachieve,” he said.
Many foster children have had to leave their home on their 18th birthday. Foster parents sometimes kicked foster children out after they stopped getting financial support from the state. If foster parents also had underage foster children in the home, other adults could not legally stay there.
The legislature allocated $3 million to pay for the program through 2019. The money could go to pay foster parents to continue to provide housing or to help former foster kids rent apartments. In order to be eligible, the young people must be enrolled in school or working 80 hours a month.
Students in the program can also get case management and legal support.