Youth who age out of foster care are at risk of poor life outcomes. Extended Foster Care is a program to help foster youth achieve better outcomes. Over a multi-year period, Columbia Legal Services has worked to implement a robust Extended Foster Care (EFC) program in Washington State so that all foster youth can become successful adults. EFC provides financial, housing, and case management support to foster youth ages 18-21 as they transition to adulthood. We have accomplished this, working in close partnership with our allies, The Mockingbird Society and Partners for Our Children.
This multi-year effort culminated in the 2018 legislative session, which made the EFC statute much more robust and inclusive. The new legislation (SB 6222) raises the age for entry into the EFC program from 19 to 21 and allows all foster youth with an open dependency on their 18th birthday to enter the program (formerly, certain youth, even if meeting one of the five eligibility criterion, were barred from the program, including youth who were in the juvenile justice system, foster youth who had been on the run for a long period of time, foster youth placed in out-of-state institutions, and foster youth who were temporarily placed at their biological parent’s home. The changes also broadened the leave/re-enter policy so that youth may exit and re-enter the program multiple times.
As a result of these reforms, all youth dependent on their 18th birthday who meet one of the following criteria may enter Extended Foster Care:
- Youth completing high school/GED,
- Youth enrolled in college or vocational school,
- Youth participating in a training program designed to remove barriers to employment,
- Youth employed 80 hours a month or more, or
- Youth who have a documented medical condition that limits their ability to work or attend school.
Our client was a 19-year-old former foster youth who was ineligible for the EFC program because on her 18th birthday she lived in a treatment facility out of state, and she did not enter EFC before her 19th birthday. She planned to start community college in Olympia in early 2018. Since she became eligible to enter Extended Foster Care, she could receive essential financial supports to help her with housing and living expenses while she goes to school.