TUCSON, Ariz. (KGUN) — Throughout the pandemic, former foster youth were some of the most vulnerable. The federal COVID-19 relief package that was passed in December of 2020 ran out on September 30, leaving many former foster youth unsupported by October 1.
Many foster children age out of the system by the age of 18, but they can choose to stay in the system until 21 years old. 20 year old Ryan Young is an Arizona foster system advocate and former foster youth. He said he aged out just before the pandemic hit.
"My story is no different than anyone else," Young said. "I moved from home to home and schools."
He said the aid helped him as he aged out of the system. In addition to his experience as a foster kid in Arizona, he is involved with numerous councils and organizations that advocate for those in the foster system.
"The aid that was cut off by October 1st actually resulted in 18,000 foster youth that aged out in a single day and that’s never happened in the history of child welfare," Young said.
The aid allocated over 400,000 in benefits and helped over 40,000 former foster youth, helping them with their expenses throughout the pandemic. It even expanded the aid to help those former foster youth up to 27 years old. Before the pandemic relief funding, those that aged out of the system received funds but Young said it wasn't enough to live on. Young co-wrote a letter to lawmakers asking for an extension of the federal aid.
"It's on President Biden's desk and also in Congress," he said.
Earlier this month, the U.S. House of Representatives passed a bill that would extend the aid. Now, the bill waits for a vote in the Senate. The director of the Arizona Department of Child Safety Mike Faust said as the kids age out of the system, those are key transitional years that are already challenging. Without support, it's even more challenging.
"I remember when I was going into moving into adulthood, 25 years ago, it was tough," he said. "I have kids that are at this age now. And it's even more challenging. Now, without that support structure, these young people, they're at a disadvantage comparatively."
During the pandemic, most young adults found support in their parents, according to Pew Research. The research showed that there was a large increase of young adults living with at least one parent. Faust said the money was key for those without parents to navigate the challenging pandemic.
There's a new organization in Tucson called FostAdopt Connections that work mainly with the older kids. Emily Weeks, the director of programs for the organization, is a foster mom herself. She said the teens and young adults are just looking for consistency, someone to support them for just a little bit of time.
"It's not enough but it's definitely something that is necessary," Weeks said. "If my children turned 18 and had absolutely no help from me and not had access to a job, they couldn't just move out."
Mea Fajardo, the founder of FostAdopt Connections said the years in which children age out of the system is a pivotal time.
"We realized that these kids need life skills training they need job skills," she said. "And they also want opportunity to earn some money and get some dignity back, some control in their lives.”
There is funding still available for those who haven't aged out of the system between the ages of 16 and 21 that runs out next September.
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