I’m trying to connect with several hundred young people who experienced foster care in my state. Unless I reach them in the next day, I won’t be able to help them because they won’t be eligible for pandemic relief after September 30th.
I’m a lived experience leader who is now working in child welfare in my state*. In my role, I connect with young people to see how they are doing while in foster care, throughout their transition from care and after exiting the system. I help the young people get to available resources, usually to meet their basic needs, such as housing, food assistance and covering past-due bills.
Having spent six years in Utah’s foster care system myself, I know this funding can be a lifeline for youth who often don’t have family or others they can call on for support.
Over the past several months, I’ve helped the state prepare to get the funding that was provided by Congress through the Consolidated Appropriations Act out to young people.
It took the state, like many states, some time to set up their system in a way that can serve more young people quickly. It required compiling contact information for young people - many who the agency hasn’t contacted in years.
Now that the state is actively issuing funds and outreaching to those who are eligible, I’m afraid they won’t be able to reach everyone in time. Many of the flexibilities Congress provided - including serving young people aged 23-26 and the moratorium on aging out - will expire on September 30th. I’m especially worried about the young people who exited foster care and don’t even know that they are eligible for assistance.
I’m calling young people and what I’m hearing breaks my heart. I had a young person share that they were homeless, and didn’t know where they were going to stay that night. I had another young person tell me they didn’t have access to food. Other young people have shared that they don’t know how I can contact them again; they are behind on their phone bill and think it’ll be cut off soon - leaving them fewer ways to access support. These young people have been trying to make it on their own. They need help.
I received some pandemic assistance myself. After graduating from college in May of this year, I found myself behind on my car payment - which I needed to get to my new job. Emergency funds helped me cover some of what I owed on my car and utilities, so I wasn’t behind as I started my new job.
I know that with more time, we could reach the majority of young people who are eligible and facing dire circumstances.
We’re now able to help young people quickly; we can get funds to them within a few days - helping make sure they can stay housed, have enough food and stay connected. We just need more time to get these young people the support Congress provided them.
Extending the moratorium on aging out and flexibilities under the Chafee and ETV programs would mean that I could help the young people I'm talking with; young people who all too often don’t have anyone else to turn to.
Natalie Clark is a FosterClub Lived Experience Leader with 6 years experience in Utah’s foster care system currently working as a social worker in child welfare. A foster care alumni herself, she is dedicated to helping other young people in and exiting the foster care system survive and ultimately, thrive.
*Due to her role, Natalie cannot share the agency she works for.