Issue: Many youth exiting foster care need extended support as they make the transition to independence, but their Medicaid health care benefits end when they age out of the system. State House Bill 1201 and its companion bill in the Senate would change that by extending health care to age 21 for youth who are dependents of the state at age 18. It would include youth in foster care at that time and youth on the streets who are state dependents.
Background: Youth are placed in foster care because their birth parents are unable or unwilling to care for them. Their experiences before being placed in state care are often traumatic and frightening. Some are physically or sexually abused. Some are neglected and ignored. For many, once they are placed into state care, they bounce from foster home to foster home, and continue to struggle to feel safe and secure.
The foster care system offers many children a chance to grow into healthy adults that they might not have otherwise, but it’s not an easy path.
A 2005 study of former foster youth in Washington and Oregon found that post-traumatic stress disorder among adults who were formerly placed in foster care were up to twice as common as among U.S. war veterans. A third of youth formerly in foster care had incomes at or below the poverty level. One-third had no health insurance, and nearly a quarter had experienced homelessness after leaving foster care.
Studies have found that anywhere from 40 to 85 percent of foster youth have mental health care needs. Those needs don’t disappear when they age out of the system.
Few young adults are ready for total independence when they become adults. Most of us have some family support that continues into young adulthood — a safety net ready to catch us if we need it. Former foster kids age 18 and over don’t have that safety net. After a childhood of struggle and instability, we expect them to be ready to make it on their own just because they are legally adults.
Last year, Mockingbird Society, a statewide advocacy group for foster care youth, made a start at changing that. They successfully lobbied for a bill that would extend foster care support to a small number of youth up to age 21 who are enrolled in college or a vocational program. This year, they’re advocating for a bill that would create a safety net by extending health care benefits to all foster youth up to age 21. The policy would affect about 450 young adults who age out of the system each year, and would be relatively affordable because the federal government pays some of the cost.
Action: Contact your legislators and tell them to support HB 1201 and its Senate companion bill. Find your legislators at www.leg.wa.gov.
Mockingbird Society is sponsoring a youth advocacy day in Olympia on Feb. 9. For more information about this legislation or youth advocacy day, visit www.mockingbirdsociety.org.
For copy of actual issue, go to https://www.realchangenews.org/2007/01/17/jan-17-2007-entire-issue