Lawmakers sent a letter to Gov. Lawrence J. Hogan Jr (R) last week imploring that he expand protections for Maryland youths who will age out of the foster care system during the COVID-19 pandemic.
“The COVID-19 pandemic has highlighted the dramatic disparities in access to health care and social services for Marylanders and among our most vulnerable are our foster youth,” said Del. C.T. Wilson (D-Charles). “We ask Governor Hogan to follow the lead of other states in preventing these young people from the increased risk of homelessness, unemployment, food insecurity, and exacerbated mental illness if discharged from the child welfare system.”
In Maryland, young adults age out of the foster system at age 21, making them more vulnerable to mental health crises and incarceration because of their limited access to food, housing and medical and behavioral healthcare.
Led by Wilson, Del. Geraldine Valentino-Smith (D-Prince George’s) and Sen. Mary Washington (D-Baltimore City), 8 senators and 41 delegates have asked Hogan to sign an executive order to allow this population to remain in the foster care system after their 21st birthday and up to 180-days following the full reopening of all 24 of the state’s jurisdictions.
“My colleagues and I have long made it our priority to fight for our vulnerable young people who are consistently overlooked in receiving the critical resources and support they need,” said Washington in a statement. “The state must step-up in a way it never has before to guarantee that support now; to leave these young Marylanders to fend for themselves while all of us struggle to navigate these challenging times is unthinkable.”
Many other states, including those with Republican governors, have put safeguards in place for foster kids nearing the end of their time in the system. Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine (R) announced that the state will continue to cover youths who age out of the system until the pandemic ends ― a policy mirrored in South Carolina and Illinois.
Rachel White, child welfare policy director at Advocates for Children and Youth, joined Maryland legislators in their call, saying that kids who age-out of the system “are among the most vulnerable in our state,” and that it’s critical that Hogan put protections in place so that they “have access to housing, viable employment and other supportive services” until the pandemic is through.
The Maryland Department of Human Services issued a temporary moratorium on expulsion from its foster program that was initially set to expire this Wednesday. Last week, the cut-off was extended to Oct. 31, allowing young adults and their case managers more time to prepare for their impending discharge.
“While we appreciate this effort, this very limited incremental approach undermines the ability of youth in care and local departments of social services to effectively plan and prepare for discharge and causes considerable stress for youth,” senators wrote to Hogan Friday.
Valentino-Smith said that a firmer strategy is needed. She called the “incremental” extension “poor policy.”
“It is unconscionable that a state like Maryland with its resources has no stabilizing plan in place,” said Valentino-Smith in a statement. “We need to join other states in appropriately providing stability in care for these young people. No planning, coordination or sense of stability is gained without a long term plan for this crisis.”