Section 477 of Public Law 99-272 requires each youth in out-of-home care, ages 16-21 to have an Independent Living Plan based on a Life Skills Inventory. Missouri has broadened this to include independent living services to all youth ages 14-21.
The Foster Care Independence Act of 1999 (the Act), signed into law December 14, 1999, established the John H. Chafee Foster Care Independence Program, hereinafter referred to as Chafee. This Act directs states to include a broad range of stakeholders in the planning, coordination, and delivery of independent living services. With the passage of H.R. 6893: Fostering Connections and Increasing Adoptions Act of 2008 (Public Law 110-351) Chafee was amended to add the purpose of providing services to youth who after the age of 16 leave foster care for adoption or guardianship.
National statistics indicate about 20,000 youth emancipate from the foster care system each year when they reach age eighteen. These young people leave without emotional or financial support that families provide. Many of these youth are not adequately prepared for life on their own. Turning eighteen may mean the beginning of a long and solitary journey toward adulthood if they have no one to turn to for help or support.
To strengthen the system of support that contributes to the safety of these young people we must: 1) increase early and consistent access to independent living preparation skills, especially opportunities for realistic practice of life skills; 2) ensure the active involvement of young people in the individual planning and decision-making process that will lead to successful emancipation; 3) ensure no youth is released from foster care to homelessness; and 4) provide access to transitional housing and longer term affordable housing options.
Young people who have left foster care say the immediate struggle for day-to-day survival after leaving care makes planning for a good future very difficult. To safeguard the well-being of youth making this transition, a continuum of support and preparation must begin when the youth enters out-of-home care. The Act enables the division to provide time-limited services and financial assistance to help these young adults as they develop the skills and education needed to move successfully into self-sufficiency and independence.
Chafee services should not be used as a substitute for sound permanency planning. In this context, independent living services do not constitute a permanency goal, but form a set of services provided to older youth to assist them in their efforts in reaching self-sufficiency. Independent Living is not an alternative to adoption for youth. Enrollment in Chafee shall occur concurrently with continued efforts to locate and achieve placement in adoptive families. The youth’s case goal should be driven by his/her individualized case plan.
For youth who plan to enter into a post-secondary or other educational program, remaining in the state’s care and custody to continue to have access to necessary services may be in their best interest. It may appear that Chafee conflicts with the Adoption and Safe Families Act (ASFA) of 1997. However, ASFA focuses on safety, permanency and well-being for all children, while Chafee focuses on services. The Division can comply with ASFA and Chafee by ensuring foster care youth in Legal Status 1 have access to independent living services regardless of their current placement or permanency.