Funding Supports and Services for Young People Transitioning from Foster Care

Research BriefChild WelfareSep 25 2019

Over the past decade, policymakers and child welfare practitioners increasingly recognize that youth who experience foster care need continued support past age 18. As a result, policymakers have increased funding to support young people ages 18 and older who are in and/or transitioning from foster care. Within this new funding environment, however, little is known about how funding streams come together to provide supports for this population. This report draws on interviews the authors conducted with 19 child welfare leaders in eight jurisdictions to highlight how jurisdictions are using existing funding sources to serve this population and examine the funding challenges they continue to face. We identify policy issues for the child welfare field to consider as they seek to improve services and supports for young people transitioning from care.

Existing funding sources that support young people transitioning from foster care

Across the eight jurisdictions in which we conducted interviews, federal funding sources provide the underlying structure for services to young people ages 18 to 21 transitioning from foster care. These sources include the Title IV-E Foster Care Program, which provides extended foster care for youth 18-21; the John H. Chafee Foster Care Program for Successful Transition to Adulthood, which provides funding to help prepare older youth in care to successfully transition to adulthood; and others. Together, these funding streams provide continued foster care placements, case management, transition services, health and mental health services, and more. Jurisdictions invest significant state and/or local resources to make the required match to draw down these federal funds. Jurisdictions also fund services and supports beyond what federal dollars can finance, frequently using other funding sources to invest in post-secondary supports; extension of certain services beyond federal age requirements; and intensive, individualized supports.

Funding levels for young people transitioning from foster care

Due to the difficulty of breaking out spending by age of children and youth, as well as the complexity of funding streams, most interviewees were unable to provide specific information about child welfare agency expenditures for services and supports for young people 18 and older. However, some existing data sources shed light on this topic. Although jurisdictions vary greatly in how they use federal, state, and local funding sources, we know that services and supports for this population rely on significant state investment, and that Chafee funding (one of the main federal funding streams for this population) is a small portion of overall child welfare agency expenditures for this group of young people.

Funding challenges and opportunities for supporting young people transitioning from foster care

Interviewees identified the following challenges to funding needed supports to this population.

  • Providing intensive supports and skill development. Interviewees highlighted that while the existing services are sufficient for some young people, many youth transitioning from care need more support. The demand for more intensive supports and skill development exceed what the Chafee program can fund and do not align with the types of services that are reimbursable under the Title IV-E extended foster care program.
  • Ensuring that young people are connected to supportive adults. There are insufficient resources for caseworkers or transition staff to provide the support needed by young people who turn 18 (and are not connected to a family) to build stable adult connections.
  • Avoiding service “cliffs.” Many young people struggle to complete post-secondary education and maintain housing and stable employment after they are no longer eligible for extended foster care and Chafee services.
  • Coordinating funding streams and services. Despite their best efforts, most jurisdictions struggle to coordinate and align the various resources available to this population. The funds flow through a variety of agencies, organizations, and providers, which makes coordination difficult.

Policy discussion

Based on the challenges identified by the child welfare leaders we interviewed, we believe the following policy issues deserve further exploration by federal, state, and local policymakers; providers; funders; advocates; and young people who have experienced foster care.

  • How increased funding levels could better support the John H. Chafee Foster Care Program for Successful Transition to Adulthood in achieving its objectives. The ability of Chafee-funded programs to adequately support this population and meet the program’s objectives has diminished over time, while the demands on the program have increased. An increase in Chafee funding could improve coordination of existing funding streams and encourage states to provide transition supports to young people to age 23. Discussion questions for the field include:
    • Should Chafee funding be increased and structured to provide or incentivize more individualized and intensive transitional services to young people who need them?
    • How could increased Chafee funding better promote building evidence about the services and supports that lead to improved outcomes, and for whom?
  • How to take advantage of Title IV-E Foster Care Program funding for this population. States can choose to extend their Title IV-E Foster Care Program to age 21 and receive Title IV-E reimbursement for those costs assuming the youth meet certain criteria (such as engagement in school or work). Given the demonstrated benefits of extended foster care for young people, all states should consider extending their IV-E Foster Care Program. Title IV-E extended foster care funding can provide a foundation for creating developmentally appropriate experiences that promote young people’s continued education and self-sufficiency. Discussion questions for the field include:
    • How can existing Title IV-E Foster Care Program funding be used to support specialized permanency (legal and relational) efforts and more intensive case management for young adults in extended foster care?
    • Should the Title IV-E Foster Care Program be changed to allow for reimbursement of expenses for services, such as counseling and coaching, that are critical for young people in this developmental stage?
  • How to leverage new opportunities under the Family First Prevention Program for young people ages 18 and older. The recently enacted Family First Prevention Services Act will allow states to be reimbursed under Title IV-E for trauma-informed, evidence-based prevention services for children and youth at risk of entering foster care and their family, and for pregnant and parenting foster youth. Through the provision of effective prevention programs, the Family First Prevention Program can help reduce the number of older youth in foster care and in need of extended supports past age 18. It can also provide jurisdictions with an opportunity to improve supports for pregnant and parenting youth in foster care and provide prevention services to young adults whose adoption or guardianship is at risk of disruption. As implementation begins, a discussion question for the field is:
    • Can states use the Title IV-E Prevention Program to ensure that young people who are transitioning from foster care but not enrolled in extended foster care are considered candidates for care to receive the supports that they need?
  • How to improve state and local coordination across funding sources to better serve young people transitioning from foster care. Federal programs outside of child welfare, including those focused on housing, education, and the workforce, also target some services towards this population. State and local jurisdictions should develop an explicit approach to coordinating funding streams and the programs they support. This coordination can maximize funding that is already available and help jurisdictions create a comprehensive array of services and supports for this population. Discussion questions for the field include:
    • How can jurisdictions better demonstrate the value of coordination and its impact on young people’s ability to access and benefit from services?
    • Are there ways to encourage federal non-child welfare programs to collaborate with child welfare programs to better meet the needs of young adults transitioning from foster care?
    • How could an increase in federal Chafee funding incentivize and support jurisdictions to better coordinate and align existing resources?

This report, informed by what interviewees shared about the challenges and successes experienced in the eight jurisdictions, is intended to begin a conversation about how the child welfare field can address the funding challenges that must be resolved in order to enhance services and supports for this population. The field must continue to build on federal, state, and local policymakers’ commitment to this population and work to ensure that all young people have what they need to make a successful transition from foster care to adulthood.