The relentless advocacy of Florida Youth SHINE (FYS), a statewide advocacy organization run by and for youth who are or were in Florida’s child welfare system, paid off recently when Senate Bill 272 passed unanimously in both houses in the Florida Legislature. The “Nancy C. Detert Champion for Children Act” was named after the late Senator who championed the rights of Florida’s youth in foster care.
The bill ensures that foster youth are provided with information and resources to thrive and become successful adults. It creates a clear, educational process for children in foster care to be educated on important laws such as, safety, education, contact with siblings, normalcy, and access to food, shelter, and healthcare. The also bill enshrines in law DCF’s Office of the Children’s Ombudsman which must consult with children and young adults who are or were in out of home care in creating materials used to provide understandable and useful information.
Florida Youth SHINE has been asking for the state to do better in educating youth about the protections and benefits of the law since 2018. Members identified this priority because, “As a former foster youth who was not informed of their rights or resources while in care, it is important to educate youth in care about their ability to attend court, see siblings, and gain guidance when aging out of care as it will help our youth transition into successful adults and advocates for their own rights,” said Rebekka Behr, FYS.
“Florida has great laws meant to help children and young adults, but they don’t do any good if youth don’t know about them,” said FYS member Kyle Johnson.
Florida Youth SHINE’s observations are confirmed by state and national data, which estimate that only 35% of Florida’s foster youth received any Chafee transition services they were eligible for between ages 14 and 21 – 12% less than the national estimate, according to Fostering Youth Transitions 2023: State and National Data to Drive Foster Care Advocacy, released May 8th by the Annie E. Casey Foundation. Data from all 50 states shed light on the housing, economic, education and permanence challenges faced by nearly 400,000 young adults who have experienced foster care. The report provides foster care trends and insights from 15 years of state and federal data for policymakers and child welfare leaders responsible for ensuring young people’s success.
The report offers data on three cohorts of young people and in all measures analyzed, the percent of Florida’s young people receiving services in 2021 was lower than in 2016, the first year in the report. “Frankly, we were surprised at the data in this report,” said Geori Berman Seldine, Executive Director of Florida’s Children First, the adult affiliate of Florida Youth SHINE. “The Legislature created an Office of Continuing Care in DCF in 2021 and has concentrated its efforts on improving services for young adults. But once again, if youth don’t know that help is available, they can’t take advantage of those services. When SB 272 is fully implemented and children and youth are educated about their rights we should see improvements in the number and percent of young people who get help transitioning to adulthood.”
Nationally, systems fail to find permanent families for more than half of older youth in foster care. In Florida 51% of older youth age out of foster care to live on their own, though that number goes up to 61% for black youth.
Fostering Youth Transitions 2023 reports that although the number of teenagers and young adults in foster care has decreased by 45 percent nationally over the past 15 years, systems are falling short at delivering services to those who are in care. In Florida, independent living services – such as vocational training, tuition aid and housing vouchers were available for eligible older youth, but only 35% received them during the study time period.
Despite the low percentage of young people being served, Florida has seen slight improvement in outcomes over time. Florida’s Children First and Florida Youth SHINE are excited to see how much more outcomes will improve when more young people get served.
The report finds that among young adults with foster care experience who were 21 years old in 2020:
• 58% have part-time or full-time employment, up 9% from 2018
• 35% have experienced incarceration, down 5% from 2018
• 58% have stable housing, same as 2018, but down 5% from 2015.
Fostering Youth Transitions 2023 seeks to close service gaps by providing policymakers and child welfare system leaders with information to create solutions that better support young people. The good news is that Florida Youth SHINE members have already laid the groundwork by identifying the reforms that can help transitioning youth in Florida in their youth-led policy campaign, #YouthCanSHINEwith. For example, Florida can broaden the population eligible to receive existing services. The state can use existing federal Chafee funds to provide support to young adults who were placed with a relative or non-relative when they turned 18, as well as to youth were in foster care after age 14 but adopted before age 18.
DCF can promote housing stability by requiring its Community Base Care Lead Agencies to reach out to local public housing authorities to engage in the partnership necessary to bring Foster Youth to Independence housing vouchers to every corner of the state.
Seldine concluded, “We urge DCF and all policymakers to continue to speak with youth with lived experience in the system for furthering their efforts to serve youth transitioning to adulthood. Florida is on an upswing, but we can always do better.”
Fostering Youth Transitions 2023: State and National Data to Drive Foster Care Advocacy will be available at www.aecf.org under embargo until 9:30 a.m. EDT on May 8, 2023. Additional information is available at www.aecf.org.
ABOUT FLORIDA’S CHILDREN FIRST
Florida’s Children First is an award-winning non-profit organization dedicated to advancing the rights of at-risk children and youth in foster care. It focuses on making big systemic changes that improve the system for thousands of youth in care today, and in the future. FCF helped young people create Florida Youth SHINE to provide foster youth the support they need to reach their full potential as advocates for their own needs.