Clinton Signs Foster Care Independence Act

Susan Kellam
December 13, 1999

This article first appeared in December 1999.

n December 14, 1999, President Clinton signed the Foster Care Independence Act into law, giving young adults greater support for the transition from foster care to independent living.

For foster youth like Alfred Perez, the signing felt like a validation of years of lonely struggles. "Mr. President ? you have done the right thing," proclaimed Perez, a 22-year-old who is now in his first year of graduate school at the University of Michigan.

Perez spent 11 years in foster care, shuttling his belongings from placement to placement in a plastic garbage bag. Getting involved in the Contra Costa County Independent Living Program and forming a relationship with an adult staff person marked a turning point in a life that had been bleak and solitary. Because the current law cuts off health insurance and services to most foster care youth on their 18th birthday, the support of the program and staff helped Perez avoid the all-too common risks of homelessness and poverty, and instead helped keep him on track to college and independence.

Perez glowed as the President committed $700 million over five years for other programs across the country that can give these transient teenagers a firmer foothold in the adult world.

The new law builds on the 1986 Title IV-E Independent Living Program, which provided states with the resources to create and implement independent living services. Now, states may use a portion of these funds for older youth between the ages of 18 and 21 who already have aged out of foster care. Marking a significant change in policy, and a recognition that foster youth are at-risk for homelessness, the new law allows states to use up to 30 percent of the newly allocated money for room and board. The law also gives states the option of extending Medicaid to youth who have left foster care.

Many of these kids face a complex set of problems rooted in poverty, including child abuse, drug exposure, drug use, teenage pregnancies, school failure and family violence. Advocates say that without appropriate treatment and anti-depressant medication, many youth can't function. Since few young people opt for self-paid health coverage, the extension of Medicaid is expected to remove one barrier to living as productive adults.

"I'll soon be a tax-paying adult, many years ahead of my peers," 19-year-old Kristi Jo Frazier boasted to the room filled with advocates, members of Congress, staff and reporters. She's living on her own as part of the Lighthouse Youth Services Independent Living Program in Ohio, attending Cincinnati State University as a business major and working full-time in the accounting department of a supply company.

Frazier continued, "I want to see what I had made available to all ? a second chance when you fail." Most 18-year-olds aging out of the system "do the dumbest things when [they] first move out," she admitted.

The new law requires more extensive assessment of state performance based on certain outcomes, including education, employment, avoidance of dependency, homelessness, non-marital childbirth and incarceration. States that don't show success in helping former foster youth can now be penalized.

Clinton concluded his speech by emphasizing the importance of using the additional funds wisely: "I challenge states to use every penny of it for maximum impact."

Learn More
For more information on foster care and what happens to children who "age out," please visit the Connect for Kids Foster Care resources.


Susan Kellam has an extensive 25-year career in journalism and social policy, including editorial positions at Rolling Stone magazine and Congressional Quarterly and as communications director at the American Public Welfare Association. She is currently a free-lance writer.



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Comments

<p>I am 22 years old and I &;aged out&; of the system, in
Pennsylvania, at age 18. I moved out of my foster home during my junior
year of high school and was unable to graduate due to homelessness.
Since then, I have gotten my GED and tried applying to colleges on my
own. To put it plain and simple, I cannot afford it. Homelessness is
still an issue for me and dorms are very pricey any way you look at it. I
don&;t have a license or a car due to the lovely &;No Driving&; rule the
system has established. I am trying to get my life in order so I can
move on and leave all of this behind me. Do you know of ANYTHING that
has been put in place to help people like me? When I click the
&;resources&; link for more information on foster care and children who
have &;aged out&;, it takes me no where. Any information would be helpful.<br />
<br />
Thanks so much!<br />
Nicole-</p>