Former foster children between the ages of 18 and 21 will now be allowed to petition Family Court and continue to work with the Department of Services for Children, Youth and their Families to get help with housing, employment, education and health care
Children aging out of the foster care system now have access to greater protections under the law thanks to legislation signed June 14 by Gov. Jack Markell.
Under Senate Bill 113, former foster children between the ages of 18 and 21 will now be allowed to petition Family Court and continue to work with the Department of Services for Children, Youth and their Families to get help with housing, employment, education and health care.
Court-appointed child advocates, former guardians and the foster children themselves will be able to bring cases to Family Court that weren’t previously within its jurisdiction.
In the last fiscal year, 94 Delaware foster children aged out of the system, putting in jeopardy their ability to continue to receive various kinds of federal- and state-funded assistance.
Ten years ago, half as many children were in that position.
Vivian Rapposelli, secretary of the DSCYF, said the new law is one way her department is attempting to deal with the trend.
“Even though it is a small step to help these kids, it’s huge for what’s next and what’s coming,” she said. “I’m more interested in implementing better policies from what we learn.”
Rapposelli said children who are still in foster care at age 18 and whose foster parents aren’t prepared to assist them after they reach legal adulthood need help in their transition from youth to independence.
Senate Bill 113 ensures that they won’t be abandoned by the system that helped them for years.
“It allows these kids to have the ability to go to court and make sure the court continues the services they need,” she said. “Previously, they couldn’t go to Family Court, it had no jurisdiction in those disputes.”
In order for the court to advocate on their behalf, former foster children must consent to participate in the process. The court can terminate its jurisdiction if the child does not follow the court’s direction, no longer needs assistance or fails to cooperate with DSCYF.
The program uses only existing federal and state dollars for operations.
Though the legislation passed in early June, it had been in the works for several years.
Previous attempts to move the bill through the legislature failed because of concerns over how it would be funded.
“I’m just pleased we were able to get it passed. It’s easy to see what held it up so long, the fiscal notes,” said sponsor Sen. Nancy Cook, D-Kenton. “It’s an example in this state of people doing more with less.”
Markell said he recognizes the unique struggles foster children face and is confident the new law will serve its purpose.
“It’s not easy being a teenager. These young people face a level of challenges taken to the next level,” he said. “Delaware is a state of neighbors and this kind of bill demonstrates that.”
Email Doug Denison at firstname.lastname@example.org