Foster youth often face a difficult transition into adulthood when services typically end.
Legislation signed into law Monday, sponsored by Sen. Joe Fain and Rep. Tina Orwall, will provide extended benefits to young adults ages 19-21 with medical conditions who do not already qualify for extended foster care, which requires them to be enrolled in school, job training or employed. Services include foster care placement, medical services, transitional living services and help meeting their basic needs.
"Transitioning into adulthood for any youth can be daunting; foster youth face an even greater challenge. Throw in a debilitating medical condition and it's a perfect storm. We have a responsibility to provide care for those who need it most. This legislation is both good investment and a moral imperative," said Fain, R-Auburn, who has worked to pass legislation adding to the eligibility since 2012.
"Extending assistance to young adults who are working or in school provides them with the foundation needed to be on their own. By extending these services to people with medical conditions that prevent them from holding a job or attending class we're helping our most vulnerable community members while reducing long-term costs," Fain said.
In 2014, the Legislature provided extended benefits to foster youth who work more than 80 hours per month, after previously making it available to those who were in school or in a job training program.
"Our foster youth, especially those young adults facing significant health challenges, need additional support to transition," said Rep. Tina Orwall, D-Des Moines, who sponsored the companion bill. "I am glad we're taking this important step to help some of the most vulnerable among us because it really will make a difference not only for them, but also for the entire community."
In 2010, the Washington State Institute for Public Policy released a study it conducted on a similar pilot program, which indicated participants: remained in college longer; required food stamps for fewer total months; and were less likely to be arrested of a misdemeanor or felony crime.
"Since 2006 the state of Washington has been on the path of providing youth aging out of foster care with a healthy option beyond homelessness and incarceration," said Jim Theofolis, executive director of the Mockingbird Society, a foster youth advocacy group. "I am so appreciative for Sen. Joe Fain and Rep. Tina Orwall's leadership in getting the Extended Foster Care bill passed into law.
"Having those youth with documented medical conditions become eligible ensures that the most vulnerable of the vulnerable young people can now share in the opportunity and promise of the Extended Foster Care program," Theofolis said. "Youth aging out of foster care have the same aspirations for a healthy adult life as all young people do and they deserve the same supports to succeed. Our entire state owes a debt of gratitude to Sen. Fain and Rep. Orwall."