The head of a national advocacy group for foster children is urging Iowa legislators to consider extending the foster care program from age 18 to 21. Gary Stangler, director of the Jim Casey Youth Opportunities Initiative, says Iowa has a good program called After Care that helps young people when they “age out” of foster care, but he says it doesn’t do enough to help them make successful transitions to adulthood.
“Even in Iowa, some of these young people still end up homeless after their 18th birthday,” Stangler says. “Young girls are vulnerable, they become pregnant, because they don’t have the kinds of things we take for granted.” Iowa’s After Care program helps extend some social services to foster children once they turn 18, but Stangler says those kids are still forced to leave their foster homes.
If Iowa extended foster care to age 21, he says half the cost of those additional three years would be paid for by the federal government.
“Most kids in this country can actually go home after college, let alone high school,” Stangler says. “We need that kind of opportunity available for young people in Iowa. We need to have the full extension of foster care.”
Iowa KidsNet reports there are about 6,100 kids in foster care in Iowa. Stangler says it would cost “a couple million dollars” for Iowa to extend foster care services to young people from age 18 through 21, but in the long-run, he says that action would save the state money.
“The cost of unplanned pregnancies, the cost of homeless shelters and supports, the cost of public assistance for young people who are unemployed and who have children,” Stangler says, “these costs add up quickly and they happen quickly.”
A report from the Jim Casey Youth Opportunities Initiative says every year, more than 26,000 young people across the country age out of the foster care system. As a result, Stangler says they are more likely than their peers to drop out of school, become parents before they are ready, experience homelessness, or end up in jail.
If foster care is extended from 18 to 21, the report says communities would save $300,000 in lost wages, public assistance and incarceration for each of the young people affected. Nationwide, he says the savings would amount to $7.8- billion dollars a year. Learn more at: www.jimcaseyyouth.org.