Washington expands access to resources for young adults in foster care

Jun. 10—Young adults in Washington's foster care system can now receive benefits through age 21 under a state law that went into effect last week.

In an announcement Thursday, the Department of Children, Youth and Families (DCYF) said that youth enrolled in extended foster care (EFC) will be eligible for care placement, supervised independent living, medical care, case management, referrals to community resources and a monthly financial subsidy, among other benefits. The change comes after the Washington Legislature passed Senate Bill 5908 during the 2024 session.

Extended foster care has been found to have several long-lasting benefits, according to the legislation, including reductions in homelessness, public assistance, use of medical emergency departments, diagnosis of substance abuse and treatment, criminal convictions and involvement of children in the child welfare system.

According to an analysis from the Department of Social and Health Services, 41% of 18-year-olds who exit the foster care system experience homelessness, compared to 23% in extended foster care who experience homelessness.

"This change in criteria widens the availability and provides a broader safety net and financial support for youth as they work through the numerous life choices and experiences that all young adults encounter as they determine their life path," Natalie Green, DCYF's assistant secretary of child welfare, said in a statement. "This is especially important for youth documented as disadvantaged and overly represented due to racial disproportionality/disparities in the child welfare system."

Under previous Washington law, youth were required to meet educational or work requirements or receive a medical exemption.

According to DCYF, more than 650 young adults currently receive benefits through EFC, though the agency expects the number of those enrolled to increase.