Lessons for BC in Florida’s foster care vote?

On May 1, the beginning of the U.S.’s National Foster Care Month, the House of Representatives in Florida extended care to its most vulnerable young adults.

Reps voted 119-1 to extend Florida’s foster care from age 18 to age 21.

In B.C., foster teens lose their housing and funding at 19.

After the vote, Rep. Nancy Detert, the Florida politician who pushed for this change for a decade, told the Miami Herald, “On your 18th birthday you will have a safety net. You can choose to say ‘I don’t feel comfortable being put out of the street. I would prefer to stay in foster care.'”

Florida isn’t alone. Washington, New York, Nebraska, and last month Hawaii all voted to extend foster care to 21. The reason is most American foster teens get kicked out of the system at 18 years old. Many are left without the skills to survive as adults, so often they hit the streets, go to prison, and apply for welfare.

The movement was started by the Fostering Connections to Success and Increasing Adoptions Act, one of the last pieces of legislation signed by George W. Bush in 2008. It recognized that most kids are not ready to support themselves at 18.

The solution seems common sense, though its impact on education and homelessness has yet to be measured. Nearly half of all young adults live with their parents for at least part of their 20s. As some advocates say, 25 is the new 19.

If B.C. were to institute the same solution, it wouldn’t be cheap. Paying for a teen to stay at home for that extra two years — from 19 to 21 — would cost $21,838 in direct payments to foster families alone, at 2013 rates.

But given that one homeless person costs taxpayers as much as $135,000 a year in public services like policing, health care, emergency services and jails (or nearly $8 million if he or she stays homeless from age 19 to 80), that up-front investment in a kid is a bargain.

Pieta Woolley reports on solutions to breaking the link between foster care and youth homelessness for The Tyee Solutions Society. This article was produced by Tyee Solutions Society in collaboration with Tides Canada Initiatives (TCI), with funding from the Vancouver Foundation. TCI and the Vancouver Foundation neither influence nor endorse the particular content of TSS' reporting. Other publications wishing to publish this story or other Tyee Solutions Society-produced articles, please see this page for contacts and information.