by Hannah Saunders
With National Foster Care Month here, the State Legislature recently awarded $10.6 million in stipends for young Washingtonians exiting the Extended Foster Care (EFC) program. The goal of the stipends is to assist youth with their transition to adulthood by increasing housing stability and securing access to essential resources such as food, transportation, and utilities.
The EFC program allows young adults who are dependents of the state of Washington to continue receiving foster care services after their 18th birthday, and those who are eligible may enter and exit the program until the age of 21. This new funding will provide direct cash payments to young people who will no longer be eligible, due to age, for EFC. Eligible youth include those who were impacted by the federal moratorium that prevented their discharge from EFC due to age through September 30, 2021, and those who have or will age out of the EFC program between October 1, 2021, to June 30, 2023.
“I think as we know with life, it’s complicated. Money doesn’t solve everything, but also not having to deal with money problems can help solve something,” said Margaret Su, director of marketing and communications for Treehouse, a nonprofit organization that supports youth experiencing foster care. “It’s hard enough being a young person and trying to figure things out, and when you don’t have that stability and support, it makes things pretty nearly impossible.” Treehouse will administer the stipends in partnership with the Department of Children, Youth & Families (DCYF).
According to DCYF, there are currently 850 young adults between the ages of 18 and 20.9 years in the EFC program in the state, with 192 being in King County. The number in King County who will receive stipends is 191, according to DCYF. Some are over 21 years old and have already aged out of the program, while others are not yet 21 but will be turning 21 between now and when the funds are set to stop. Once they age out of the EFC program, they will begin to receive funds.
Treehouse Survey Highlights Foster Youth Hardships
Treehouse conducted a survey of about 700 people aged 23 to 26 who had experienced foster care and received emergency pandemic aid. The survey found that 85% of respondents who aged out of the EFC program during the pandemic reported needing money for housing. Furthermore, 76% of survey respondents reported that they were behind on bills, and 25% were unemployed.
“This is a particularly vulnerable time for them after an already often traumatic childhood,” said Su. “It is the time when they may also lose the support and resources they received through school and the foster care system.”
An anonymous survey respondent stated, “I lost my job and have no family support. I have been going through all of my savings over the last year and I am very close to not making rent next month. I have been desperately trying to stay in college as I have two quarters left (including this current one) as it is my only hope to have a decent life.”
Additional survey data shows that 44% of respondents said they would use the stipend funding for employment, and 34% would use funds for their education.
“We do know and feel that the young people really know what they need, and I think the key is really giving them a voice and listening to them, but also making sure we provide support in addition to financial,” said Su.
Challenges for Youth Exiting EFC Program
Laurie Lippold, director of public policy for the nonprofit Partners For Our Children, which focuses on improving the lives of vulnerable children and families in Washington State, described some of the challenges young adults face when aging out of the EFC program and transitioning into adulthood.
“There are many who would say ‘I am so glad to be out of that system’. That system does provide contact and kind of a touch point,” said Lippold. “I think for too many, they get out, they have been pretty detached from their family for a variety of reasons, they may not have been given an opportunity to meet or reconnect with relatives … so many age out without a family connection.”
Lippold says caseworkers are not required to be involved with youth who have exited the EFC program, which cuts ties to another major support network. She mentioned that youth needing a place where they can turn for support is “a biggie.”
“This expectation that at 21 you’re out, you’re on your own, you need to have a job and you need to have that job pay for rent in the City of Seattle or anywhere else you live in the state of Washington, you don’t really have longstanding or secure healthy relationships — that’s kind of a recipe for not doing so well,” said Lippold. “It is fabulous that the legislature made a 10-plus-million-dollar investment, because without it, all the things are just going to be worse. There’s a much greater likelihood of being homeless, of ending up in more intensive systems.”
Lippold believes these stipends will become a stabilizer in the lives of youth transitioning out of the EFC program by increasing housing and food security, as well as clothing and basic necessities. “I think that we have to also be doing a better job at making sure that people get connected to other existing resources,” said Lippold.
More information on EFC extension payments is available from the Treehouse FAQ.
Hannah Saunders (she/her/hers) is a journalist who moved to Seattle in 2020 after graduating from Emerson College, where she received her journalism degree with a minor in health & society. She enjoys writing about the environment, education, LGBTQIA+ issues, and health. Hannah has bylines in Seattle Gay News, Sound Publishing’s Eastside publications, among others. In her free time, she enjoys exploring new places with her pup, Clifford, and skateboarding along scenic trails. You can find her on Twitter @_SaundersHannah.
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