State Approaches to Extending Chafee Services to Age 23

Brief

State Approaches to Extending Chafee Services to Age 23

Insights to Inform a Learning Agenda

Abstract

Introduction

For the past two decades, states have been able to access federal funds through the John H. Chafee Program for Successful Transition to Adulthood program to support young adults leaving foster care up to their 21st birthday. Yet young people who have been in foster care continue to face challenges well after turning 21. A recent federal policy, the Family First Prevention Services Act (FFPSA) of 2018, responds to this need by giving states the option to extend the provision of Chafee-funded services to age 23.

All states with extended federal foster care (EFFC) are eligible to submit a request to extend Chafee services to age 23 to the Children’s Bureau for approval. States without EFFC, but who currently use state or other funds to provide comparable services, may also submit a request to the Children’s Bureau to extend Chafee services to age 23. However, the FFPSA did not include additional federal funds for Chafee, and states that received extension approval did not receive an increase in Chafee funding.

Study researchers spoke to a sample of states that had and had not taken the federal option to extend Chafee-funded services to age 23 to understand how states approached the extension. This brief describes how some states implemented the extension, why some eligible states did not seek approval to extend Chafee services to age 23, and common challenges states experienced in supporting older young adults. This information may be useful to states considering whether to extend Chafee services to age 23 and can be used by the Administration for Children and Families (ACF) to develop a learning agenda focused on supporting the extension population.

Primary Research Questions

  1. What influences states’ decisions to take up the extension or not?
  2. What does eligibility for services and the funding allocation look like under the extension?
  3. What are the primary service needs of young adults between ages 21 and 23 that the extension can help states address?

Purpose

The purpose of the brief is to (1) understand why states chose or did not choose to extend Chafee-funded services to age 23, (2) explain how some states have elected to implement the extension, and (3) use this information to identify potential directions for a learning agenda focused on supporting young people aged 21 to 23 who have been in foster care.

Key Findings and Highlights

Among the sample of nine states that chose not to extend Chafee services to age 23, five were using state funds to serve young adults beyond age 21. The lack of additional federal funds was the primary reason these nine states gave for not extending eligibility. The nine states in the sample that chose to extend Chafee to age 23 mentioned several reasons for doing so, such as wanting to continue supporting young adults beyond age 21, creating a gradual transition to independence, and believing extending eligibility for services was the “right thing to do.”

Most extending states in the sample had the same eligibility criteria and service offerings for young people over and under age 21, though some states modified either their criteria or services. For example, two states in the sample offered services for young people ages 21 to 23 that were lower in intensity and had fewer requirements than Chafee-funded services for young people under age 21. And two other extending states in the sample limited their services to housing support or crisis-oriented assistance to young people ages 21 to 23.

A major challenge to serving 21- to 23-year-olds reported by states in the sample was sustaining youth engagement in services beyond the minimum required to receive financial supports. Extending states also struggled with developing age-appropriate supports for young people ages 21 to 23. Finally, the lack of additional Chafee funding for serving young people to age 23 was noted as a challenge by a couple of extending states.

Methods

Researchers from the Urban Institute interviewed representatives from nine states that had extended Chafee services and nine states (including Washington, DC) with extended federal foster care that had not extended Chafee services as of December 2019. Interviews were conducted by phone with state independent living coordinators, division directors, program managers, and policy specialists from April to August 2020. Through these interviews, the researchers sought to answer the following questions:

  • What influences the decision for states to take up the extension or not?
  • What does eligibility for services look like under the extension?
  • What does the funding allocation look like under the extension?
  • What are the primary service needs of young adults between ages 21 and 23 that the extension can help states address?
  • How and to what extent have states planned for and progressed toward implementation?
  • What are the early successes and challenges to serving young adults to age 23, and what are the proposed solutions to the challenges?

The information gathered through these interviews was summarized and used to identify possible directions for a learning agenda focused on the needs of young people served by the extension of eligibility for Chafee-funded services.

Recommendations

The Chafee program requires ACF to study innovative programs that support young people making the transition from foster care to adulthood. Prior Chafee-related studies have not included young people ages 21 to 23 as they were not eligible to receive Chafee-funded services. Hence, the extension of Chafee-funded services to age 23 calls for the development of a learning agenda to provide a strategic roadmap to incorporate this new population in future Chafee-focused studies.

The information gathered through our interviews with states suggests several lines of inquiry for a learning agenda focused on the needs of young people served by the extension of eligibility for Chafee-funded services. Potential directions for a learning agenda include an exploration of

  • the outcomes targeted by extending Chafee,
  • developmentally appropriate service models for young adults ages 21 to 23,
  • how to improve the collection and management of data on young adults transitioning out of foster care, and

the ways states implement federal child welfare policies.

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