Adulting is hard, but for the 20,000 youth who “age out” of foster care each year, suddenly required to be self-sufficient, it is downright cruel. Historically, many youth who age out of foster care fail to achieve their full potential because they don’t enjoy the same parental support as kids who are not in foster care. Roughly 34 percent of non-foster care youth aged 18-to-34 still lived at home with their parents in 2015, according to one study, and during this time, they received approximately $48,000 in financial support.

Youth in foster care deserve and need similar support. The Fostering Connections to Success and Increasing Adoptions Act of 2008 incentivized states to provide that type of care. Since the law’s enactment, more than half of all states have extended foster care, some using federal funds and others using state funds, to allow foster youth to remain in care until age 21 and to receive support and services sometimes up to age 26. The supports were designed with the hope that young adults who aged out of foster care would start attaining housing, employment, and education outcomes more similar to those who do not have foster care experience.

So new research from Georgia State University Ph.D. candidate Alex Prettyman suggests good news. Using data from the National Youth in Transition Database (NYTD) from Fiscal Years 2011 and 2014, Prettyman assesses the costs and benefits of extended foster care and finds that “a dollar spent on extended foster care maintenance payments yielded a return of $2 to $4.” In “Happy 18th Birthday, Now Leave: The Hardships of Aging Out of Foster Care,” Prettyman explains:

“All else equal, if no states implemented extended foster care during 2012 to 2016, then 362 more youth might have experienced homelessness, 361 more youth might have been incarcerated, and 169 fewer youth might have graduated high school by age 21… Specific to the NYTD FY2011 and FY2014 cohorts, extended foster care reduced costs to society by $88.4 million to $190 million, depending on the cost of incarceration.”

Prettyman’s findings underscore the wisdom of addressing the needs of older foster youth, especially during this pandemic. Investing in older youth, issuing a moratorium on aging out, and expanding access to services for young people in foster care, as proposed in bills like the Child Welfare Emergency Assistance Act (S.4172) and the Supporting Foster Youth and Families through the Pandemic Act (H.R. 7947), are likely to save our society significant amounts of money and, more importantly, will allow us to live up our responsibility to parent the youth in state care as they become adults.