Harrisburg, PA – The Department of Human Services (DHS) today announced that older Pennsylvania youth exiting the foster-care system will now be eligible for aftercare services until age 23 – a policy change that will offer myriad supportive services to a particularly vulnerable population of youth as they transition to adulthood. Previously, youth became ineligible for aftercare services on their 21st birthday.
DHS estimates that the extension of aftercare services to age 23 will benefit about 1,500 former foster youth in fiscal year 2020-21.
“Every child deserves a safe and healthy environment to grow up, and every person deserves a stable support system to help them transition from childhood to adulthood,” DHS Secretary Teresa Miller said. “For former foster youth aging out of the system, the traditional family support system may not be there for them. I’m proud that Pennsylvania is stepping up to fill that gap and provide the types of services these young adults need to go on to lead happy, healthy and productive lives.”
DHS convened a workgroup to study the possibility of extending aftercare services to age 23 for former foster youth after the federal Family First Prevention Services Act gave states the option of doing so. After studying the issue in collaboration with stakeholders, DHS has opted into this provision effective July 1, 2020.
In Pennsylvania, child welfare is a county-administered and state-supervised system. Counties provide aftercare services that meet the needs of the youth who exit foster care on or after their 14th birthday – and now until age 23 – that can include: needs assessment/case planning, life skills training, prevention services, education, support services, employment, location of housing, room and board, retreats and camps, indirect services, and program administration. Some services require youth to meet other eligibility criteria.
This policy change to extend aftercare services to age 23 ensures that all former foster youth, including those who remain in foster care to age 21 have access to aftercare services to help them safely and successfully transition to independence and adulthood after they’ve exited the formal foster-care system.
Research shows that youth who age out or leave foster care without a permanent family/connection experience worse outcomes than that of their peers in the general population. Former foster youth are disproportionately represented among young adults entering the mental health and substance use disorder systems, homeless services, employment services and criminal justice systems. This policy change is a critical step forward in serving older youth and preventing the outcomes seen nationally for foster youth who age out of the foster-care system.
In addition, beginning July 1, 2020, DHS has extended eligibility for the Chafee Education and Training Voucher program — known as Education and Training Grants (ETG) in Pennsylvania — to youth up until their 26th birthday. This program provides eligible youth financial support to attend post-secondary education and training classes for up to five years (consecutive or non-consecutive). The previous cutoff age was 23.
ETG eligibility includes youth who are in foster care or discharged from foster care on or after age 16, including those youth have exited foster care to adoption or permanent legal guardianship. The ETG application for the 2020-21 academic year is available online.
Youth applying for ETG will be evaluated to determine if they also qualify for the Fostering Independence Tuition Waiver Program (FosterEd). The FosterEd program requires Pennsylvania post-secondary institutions to waive tuition and mandatory fees for Pennsylvania youth who meet Chafee ETG eligibility requirements and who have applied for all available federal and state grants.