Independent Living Programs (ILPs) across the country are responding to increased requests for assistance from young people from foster care, according to a recent poll by FosterClub. In normal times ILPs help young people from foster care navigate the challenges of transitioning from foster care to adulthood. DFCS and ILPs in Illinois have developed mechanisms that have enabled them to continue to offer services to youth currently in care and who have aged out of care during this pandemic, including:
- Providing services to youth who would have aged out – allowing them to maintain housing and support
- Cash assistance
- Increasing contact with young people (including young people whose cases have closed) to provide well-being and connection to resources
On March 16, 2020 the State of Illinois entered into a Stay-at-Home order in response to the COVID-19 pandemic crisis. The Illinois Department of Children and Family Services (DCFS) issued a policy action transmittal allowing older youth expected to age out during the COVID-19 pandemic crisis the option to shelter in place and remain in their department-approved placement. Family Advocacy Centers, in conjunction with other department divisions, have made concerted outreach efforts to the DCFS alumni who have recently aged out of care around the state. The policy action transmittal also extended emergency cash assistance to youth who had aged out six months prior to the COVID-19 pandemic crisis and reinforced available community resources for alumni through the DCFS funded family advocacy services.
The DCFS YHAP (Youth Housing Assistance Program) coordinator charged the office’s housing advocates with searching for vulnerable youth whose cases had closed before they turned 20 years and six months old to see if they need any additional services during this crisis. Ordinarily the Youth Housing and Assistance Program (YHAP) helps youth who are expected to age out of care with housing advocacy and cash assistance until age 21, unless they are Family Unification Program (FUP) recipients.
Further, DCFS increased the Youth in College (YIC)/Vocational Training Voucher (VT) monthly grant from $537 to $637 in April and has also relaxed the $2,000 limit to provide more cash assistance to youth who need it.
The DCFS Office of Education and Transition Services (OETS) has conducted well-being checks since the beginning of the pandemic to confirm youth have a secure place to live, that they can afford to continue living independently and that they are in good health. OETS has completed four well-being checks for current and former foster youth and will continue to connect with the youth and provide resources when necessary. The well-being checks will continue as long as the pandemic is still active and the youth are participating in the program.
Many of the youth are staying with relatives or fictive kin but they are not receiving extended stipends, or the amounts are not enough to support the youth’s expenses. Youth who had aged out of the foster care system within six months prior to the COVID-19 crisis reconnected with DFCS through a former caseworker/supervisor, housing advocates or Family Advocacy Centers.
“One youth has special needs and is in school. Her former foster parent is letting her stay in her home, so we purchased clothes, a desk, some food and household supplies for her.”
“Several youth were forced out of the dorm so we paid for one youth to stay in a hotel for eight days until his unit was ready. We also got him food, household supplies and paid his security deposit.”
“Another youth found a room for rent as a temporary sublet, and now has moved to another place until the fall semester. We paid her rent and for household supplies.”
“I have helped two youth who are 19 in Southern Illinois move into their own units. One was homeless before the crisis. We bought the youth a bed and household items and are assisting with rent. We purchased a cell phone, food and hygiene supplies for the other youth and recently paid a security deposit.”
“We connected a homeless 22-year-old youth who recently moved here from New York to two housing programs and will be seeking a Family Unification Program voucher for him as well.”