On April 21, it was announced that the Washington Legislature awarded $10.6 million in stipends for youth aging out of the Washington State Department of Children, Youth, and Families (DCYF) Extended Foster Care program.
The Extended Foster Care (EFC) Program allows young adults who are dependents of Washington state to continue receiving foster care services after their 18th birthday, and eligible youth may enter and exit the program between the ages of 18 to 21.
Youth exiting the foster care system frequently don’t have strong support networks, and the pandemic has added to the problem, according to Steven Grilli, DCYF Assistant Secretary of Prevention and Client Services.
“Foster care allies, foster care alumni, and legislative champions stepped forward to secure this funding to see youth through a challenging time in their lives,” said Grilli.
Monthly stipends will be administered by DCYF in partnership with Treehouse, a local nonprofit that supports youth experiencing foster care and assists with the transition to adulthood.
Eligible stipend recipients include those impacted by the federal moratorium that prohibited their discharge from EFC due to age through September 30, 2021, and those who age out of EFC between Oct. 1, 2021, to June 30, 2023.
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 of young adults in King County who will receive stipends is 191. Some are over the age of 21 and have already aged out of the EFC program. Others are not yet 21 but will be turning 21 between now and when the funds are set to stop on June 30, 2023, and will receive funds when they age out of the program.
The stipends will assist youth with transitioning to adulthood by supporting housing stability and securing access to essential resources, to include food, transportation, and utilities, according to Grilli.
Treehouse conducted a survey of people aged 23 to 26 who have experienced foster care and received emergency pandemic aid. Of the 700 survey respondents, 85% reported needing money for housing, while 76% were behind on at least some bills.
Further survey data shows that:
- 44% of respondents said they would use the stipends for employment; nearly 25% reported being unemployed
- 34% of respondents would use funds for their education
- 26% of respondents have children, and 21% are single parents
- 7% experienced houselessness during the COVID-19 pandemic
“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 supports in addition to financial,” said Margaret Su, Director of Marketing and Communications for Treehouse.
Su described that the way the stipends will be used by recipients varies on an individual basis, although a portion of youth will use these stipends to prevent them from falling behind on bills.
“For some of them, it’s trying to get them back to how it was, for instance, if they lost their job,” said Su.
Ways to support youth
“We encourage people to make a difference by urging their legislators to support legislative efforts that will improve equity for youth in foster care,” said Su. “One way to do that is through our Advocacy Action Center. May is National Foster Care Month, so it is a good time to get involved. Treehouse also has several ways people can engage.”
Su brought up how Treehouse has a volunteer-run store that offers free clothing and supplies to youth that have experienced foster care. Su described the goal of the store as being a place where youth can have an affirming experience, and items that they feel good about.
Treehouse also has an Amazon wishlist, which currently consists of items that would be given as gifts to this summer’s graduates, such as Polaroid camera, eyeshadow palettes, and skateboards, among others.
DCYF caseworkers, partners at Treehouse, and DCYF Adolescent Programs staff are reaching out to eligible youth about the stipends and plan to disburse payments this month, according to DCYF.