Work & Welfare Subcommittee Chairman LaHood Opening Statement: Hearing on Supporting Youth Aging Out of Foster Care
"Reducing overlap and administrative complexity would ease the burden on youth struggling to navigate the assistance available to them. This Committee has an opportunity to ensure better alignment of programs as we consider reauthorization of Title IV-B."
"Good afternoon and welcome. Thank you all for joining us at today's subcommittee hearing on 'Pathways to Independence: Supporting Youth Aging out of Foster Care.' I especially want to thank our witnesses for traveling here and for your commitment to helping us understand and work through these important issues.
"My name is Darin LaHood and I represent Illinois’ 16th District, covering much of the central and northwestern parts of the state.
"This bipartisan child welfare hearing marks the second this Congress, reflecting the shared dedication of the Subcommittee members to address pressing issues facing foster children.
"Our first hearing, 'Modernizing Child Welfare to Protect Vulnerable Children,' was held in September of last year, and laid the groundwork for the Committee to examine reauthorization of the Title IV-B program, which expired in 2021.
"This second hearing is an opportunity to evaluate the current landscape of services available to youth in foster care and ways to redesign federal child welfare programs to reduce fragmentation and duplication. While many of our discussions have focused on young children entering care, the goal of today’s hearing is to uplift the voices of the nearly 150,000 youth ages 14 to 21 in the nation's foster care system, and the 19,000 youth who age out of care each year.
"Foster youth often lack strong connections to families or mentors and need support finding pathways to independence. Basic milestones such as graduating from high school, pursuing higher education, and maintaining stable employment, pose distinct challenges. Many of us can recall the support of parents, teachers, neighbors, or mentors who played vital roles in our lives. Unfortunately, many foster youth lack these critical support systems.
"Alarming statistics reveal the hardships faced by youth in foster care:
20 percent become homeless;
70 percent are arrested by age 26;
Only 55 percent are employed; and
Only 24 percent are enrolled in post-secondary education or training.
"These statistics should deeply concern all of us.
"We should note, however, that some progress has been made. Last year, the Annie E. Casey Foundation released a comprehensive data report titled, 'Fostering Youth Transitions 2023.' The report highlights significant gains in improving outcomes for foster youth over the past two decades. These include:
A decrease in group homes and residential care;
Increased kinship placement for foster youth; and
A decrease in youth entering foster care.
"The data also highlight persistent challenges:
More than half of older youth in foster care lack permanent families and age out of foster care because they were never reunified with their biological family or adopted from foster care.
Many young individuals in foster care face obstacles such as severed connections with birth families, homelessness, criminal records, limited opportunities for postsecondary education and training, and challenges entering the workforce.
Despite the availability of federally funded foster youth programs, less than half of eligible youth benefit from these resources.
"One stat from the Casey Foundation report that stood out to me is the finding that only 25 percent of youth in foster care have access to foster care services under the John H. Chafee Foster Care Program. The Chafee program was authorized to address specific needs of youth in foster care, yet some states underutilize allocated funds. In my home state of Illinois, only 5 percent of foster youth received services at any point in their time in care.
"Youth in the foster care system navigate a maze of federal programs, and if anyone understands government bureaucracy, it's our foster youth. Reducing overlap and administrative complexity would ease the burden on youth struggling to navigate the assistance available to them. This Committee has an opportunity to ensure better alignment of programs as we consider reauthorization of Title IV-B.
"The stories and research our witnesses share today will illuminate the experiences of growing up in foster care for many youths in America. This presents an opportunity for continuing our bipartisan collaboration on meaningful policy solutions for America’s most vulnerable children.
"I'm honored to welcome our witnesses today. I eagerly anticipate your testimonies and extend my sincere gratitude to each of you for your willingness to be here today and share your stories."