Washington Gov. Jay Inslee Signs Bill to Help Foster Youth Become Successful Adults

Friday, March 9, 2018

Washington Governor Jay Inslee signed a bill today that provides foster youth aged 18-21 with the housing and case management support necessary for a smoother transition to adulthood. The State’s Extended Foster Care program, which the legislature has implemented gradually over the past several years, will now allow all foster youth who age out of care at age 18 to access the program.

“I’m very excited,” said 19-year old Bri Winslow, who found herself homeless when she aged out of care at age 18. “Under the old program rules, kids had to sign up before their 19th birthday – I didn’t meet those requirements then, but I do now,” said Winslow. Under the expanded eligibility rules of Senate Bill 6222, Winslow will be able to get help with her rent until age 21, while she continues to achieve her education and job training goals. 

Extended Foster Care is a program for youth aging out of foster care who are in education, employment, or other qualifying programs. It provides essential housing and other supports for 18-21 year olds. Under the old law, certain former foster youth who met the education or employment criteria, were still ineligible for the program. For example, youth had to sign up by age 19, couldn’t re-enroll more than once, and couldn’t participate if they were in the juvenile justice system on their 18th birthday. 

“This bill provides an opportunity for success to help foster youth who otherwise would be on their own at age 18 to become successful adults,” said Columbia Legal Services attorney Mary Van Cleve who advocated for the bill. Previously, youth had to sign up before their 19th birthday, and the program had other limits on entry. “Like Bri, too many foster youth in our state find themselves homeless when they turn 18.”

Approximately 500 foster youth per year age out of care at age 18. About one third of them experience homelessness soon after aging out, according to a 2013 DSHS report. Over the past several years, the Washington legislature has gradually broadened entry into the Extended Foster Care program. This bill completes that effort, allowing several hundred more foster youth ages 18-21 to get much needed support. Washington now has robust rules that allow all foster youth aging out at age 18 to participate if they meet the education or other program requirements.  

The bill had broad bipartisan support. Its prime sponsors were Senator Reuven Carlyle (D-Seattle) and Representative Jake Fey (D-Tacoma). Senator Jeannie Darneille (D-Tacoma) and Representatives Michelle Caldier (R-Port Orchard), Paul Graves (R-Fall City), Ruth Kagi (D-Seattle), and Tana Senn (D-Mercer Island) also provided leadership on this bill. 

Columbia Legal Services applauds Gov. Inslee and the legislature for taking this step to help these vulnerable young adults achieve the stability necessary to seek a brighter future and become successful adults.