Earlier today, I attended the Jim Casey Youth Opportunities Initiative Launch of the Success Beyond 18 Campaign, a national campaign designed to provide a better path for young people as they transition from foster care to adulthood and independence.

The Fostering Connections to Success and Increasing Adoptions Act of 2008 allows states to claim federal reimbursement for Title IV-E eligible foster (and adopted) youth from age 18 to 21. Research, including The Midwest Evaluation of the Adult Functioning of Former Foster Youth has demonstrated that allowing youth to remain in foster care after age 18 can result in increased lifetime earnings for youth and thus higher tax revenues. Extending care may also reduce other negative outcomes affecting youth who age out of the system.

Success Beyond 18 supports state implementation of the Fostering Connections state option to extend foster care beyond 18 and advances other state policy improvements that benefit older youth. Currently in 15 states, Jim Casey Youth Opportunities Initiative has helped states take advantage of the Fostering Connections Act, extending foster care services to young people up to age 21; develop comprehensive and developmentally appropriate systems of support for youth; provide youth-directed advocates to young people in care; and, ensure that young people in foster care are active participants in decision making with respect to placement and service needs.

Improving services for youth aging out of foster care is critical. The transition to adulthood – marked by adolescence – is a challenging period in development when new social and biological experiences converge and propel youth into adult life. During this time, young adults begin to develop a sense of self, forge a unique path, make career decisions, exercise independence and take on new challenges. A significant percentage of foster youth – 12% to 36% – experience homelessness, having few resources to turn to in order to secure adequate housing upon leaving foster care, and the few federal programs that include transitioning youth are severely under-funded.

Each year, over 26,000 youth age out of the child welfare system, meaning they no longer qualify for foster care services and are left without the supports needed to successfully transition to independent adult life. As a result, too many teens end up homeless or in unstable housing situations, and do not attain high school or postsecondary degrees. For the majority of youth in foster care, a number of services, including foster care itself, as well as health care and housing abruptly end when a teen turns 18.

The range of services and supports available to children who age out of the foster care system varies considerably from state to state. Most teens aging out of care receive minimal services, and feel abandoned at a time when they are in desperate need of critical guidance and support. Statistics show a very negative outlook for these youth. One in four will be incarcerated within the first two years after leaving the child welfare system, and over one-fifth will become homeless at some point. These teens are also more likely to experience serious mental health problems and to be involved in the juvenile justice system.

At today’s Launch, in a discussion divided into two parts: a national announcement of the initiative and a policy panel discussion, we heard from Gary Stangler, Executive Director of Jim Casey Youth Opportunities Initiative, Patrick McCarthy, President and CEO of Annie E. Casey Foundation, Jack Markell, Governor of Delaware, Mark Courtney of Chapin Hall at the University of Chicago, Maura Corrigan, Director of the Michigan Department of Human Services, and a number of other speakers.

During the discussion, three young people – Sixto Cancel, Joshua Grubb, and Nicole Byers – spoke about their experiences with the foster care system. In their presentation, each highlighted one of the three goals of Success Beyond 18:

Success Beyond 18 Goal 1. Extend care for young people beyond age 18 to at least 21 and do it right by ensuring services and supports are offered based on the unique developmental tasks of this life stage and their legal status as adults.

Success Beyond 18 Goal 2. Fully promote youth engagement in case planning and decision-making for all young people in foster care age 14 and older.

Success Beyond 18 Goal 3. Provide quality oversight that ensures that developmentally appropriate supports and services lead to positive life outcomes for all young people in foster care, beginning no later than age 14 and continuing through extended voluntary care to at least age 21.

The Success Beyond 18 Campaign is a great effort and we hope to see more States continue to take on the challenge of improving services and systems that impact young adults in the foster care system and those transitioning to adulthood and independence.

To learn more about the Success Beyond 18 Campaign, visit Jim Casey Youth Opportunities Initiative online at: http://jimcaseyyouth.org/