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Excerpt from Practice Perspectives (Fall 2014)
Below is an excerpt from a recent "Practice Perspectives" article. NASW Members can view the full .pdf article by clicking here, or by visiting the National NASW website here. Not a member? Join NASW

Securing Safe, Stable and Affordable Housing for Young People Aging Out of Foster Care

Roxana Torrico Meruvia, MSW
NASW-DC Senior Practice Associate


In federal fiscal year 2012, approximately 23,396 young people transitioned out of foster care (U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, 2013) and faced the obstacles of adulthood – tight job markets, low wages, elevated tuition rates, and a lack of affordable housing – with limited, if any supports (Torrico Meruvia, 2013). Unlike their peers who may have family to rely on, life’s challenges can make older foster youths’ transition into adulthood a daunting and difficult one. Therefore, it is not surprising that former foster youth experience poor educational outcomes, high rates of unemployment, poverty, health issues, single parenthood, and homelessness (Courtney & Heuri ng, 2 005; Torrico Meruvia, 2013).

While housing stability is critical to the well-being of youth, young people leaving care continue to experience periods of housing instability and homelessness at startling rates. In fact, 12 to 36 percent of former foster youth experience homelessness (White & Rog, 2004; Courtney, Dworsky, Lee & Raap, 2010) and between 25 to 50 percent of young people frequently change living situations (e.g., couch surf, double up, face evictions, etc.) after leaving foster care (Dion, Dworsky, Kauff & Kleinman, 2014; Casey Family Programs, 2008). With a limited safety net, older foster youth face the demands of obtaining enough money for a security deposit and first and last month’s rent, furnishing their home and making monthly rental payments once they transition out of foster care. These responsibilities, combined with limited incomes and a narrow housing pool, make the transition into adulthood challenging at best.

Policies and Programs that Address the Housing Needs of Older Foster Youth

During the last 25 years, federal and state governments have recognized that young people transitioning out of foster care need support with the development of independent living skills, support of education and employment and securing stable housing (Courtney & Heuring, 2005; Dworsky, Dillman, Dion, Coffee-Borden & Rosenau, 2012; Torrico Meruvia, 2013). While there are a range of laws and programs that support the various needs of young people aging out of foster care, below is a list of highlighted laws and programs that can support their housing needs.

  • John H. Chafee Foster Care Independence Program, established by the Foster Care Independence Act, doubled the funding to states to $140 million while also expanding eligibility for services such as Medica id, mentoring and room and board services (e.g., security deposits, housing subsidies, etc.) for current and former foster youth up to age 21.

  • Education and Training Vouchers (ETV) program was authorized by the Promoting Safe and Stable Families Amendments of 2001 as part of the John H. Chafee Foster Care Independence Program, allowing states to pay up to $5,000 towards tuition, room and board and other school related costs for students up until the age of 23.

  • Fostering Connections to Success and Increasing Adoptions Act of 2008 resulted in significant improvements for youth who spent time in foster care including mandating the development of a personalized transition plan 90 days before discharge from foster care (which must address housing) and allowing states to use federal funding to keep youth (who meet certain conditions) in foster care until the age of 21.

  • Family Unification Program (FUP) provides families involved with child welfare with a Housing Choice Voucher and supportive services to reunify families or to avoid a foster care placement altogether (if appropriate). In 2000, eligibility for FUP was extended to include former foster youth ages 18 to 21 who were at least 16 when they transitioned out of foster care; youth receive an 18 month housing voucher while also receiving case management services. FUP is administered on the local level by public housing agencies in partnership with public child welfare agencies. Public child welfare agencies are responsible for referring youth to the public housing agencies for determination of eligibility for rental assistance.

  • Housing Choice Voucher (HCV) and Public Housing programs are generally administered by public housing agencies (PHA). Some PHAs set aside housing vouchers for youth aging out of care or prioritize youth on voucher waiting lists. Likewise, some public housing agencies prioritize former foster youth’s applications for public housing units. Housing Choice Voucher and public housing recipients typically pay 30 percent of their adjusted gross income towards rent.

  • Runaway and Homeless Youth Act Transitional Living Program aims to ensure the basic safety of homeless youth while supporting their education, employment, health and permanent connections. Congress initially enacted the Runaway and Homeless Youth Act (RHYA) in 1974; it is currently funded through the Reconnecting Homeless Youth Act of 2008. Administered by the Family Youth Services Bur eau ( FYSB), the Runaway and Homeless Youth Act Transitional Living Programs serve youth ages 16 to 21 who are homeless and cannot return home; grantees can include programs with host homes, group homes or supervised apartment settings. In addition, RHYA programs also include Basic Center and Street Outreach programs which provide emergency shelter and services and outreach services for homeless youth. Young people who have aged out of foster care and are homeless are eligible for these services (Fernandes- Alcantara, 2013)...

End of Excerpt - READ THE FULL ARTICLE  (.PDF) 

Full article includes...

  • A Range of Housing Options
  • Social Work Action Steps
  • NASW Resources
  • Critical Housing Related Questions For Social Workers Working With Young People Aging Out Of Foster Care
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