A prominent foster care alumni group is spearheading an effort to get Gov. Tom Wolf to protect youth who are at great risk during the coronavirus pandemic.

The Pa. chapter of Foster Care Alumni of America sent a letter Thursday to Wolf asking that he take a variety of steps to protect older youth in the foster care system — and those who are aging out. The administration is currently reviewing the group’s recommendations, a spokesperson told Billy Penn Friday afternoon.

“Our main priority at this time must be to keep young people safe, housed and connected to services and caring adults,” reads the letter, which lauds the actions of governors in California, Illinois and Rhode Island for taking proactive steps to help older youth in foster care.

About 700 foster youth in Pennsylvania age out of care each year.

Without family support, adoption or guardianship, they’re left to contend with the transition to adulthood on their own. Unless they achieve some kind of permanent placement, these young adults are at increased risk for experiences like homelessness and poverty, according to numerous studies.

The letter calls on Wolf to take several different actions, including:

  • Suspending the requirement that youth between 18 and 21, who are in what’s known as extended care, maintain participation in activities like school and work, which the shutdown had rendered impossible
  • Placing a moratorium on discharging any youth from care if they want continued services during the shutdown
  • Granting funding for additional time in placement and services
  • Requiring county welfare agencies to expedite requests from youth to re-enter care if they had previously exited before reaching 21 years of age

The entire letter and requests can be read here. Wolf’s administration said it appreciates the concerns raised.

“Since the COVID-19 crisis began in early March, OCYF has been in close contact with our county partners and service provider agencies to ensure all children and youth are safe and that we are planning appropriately for their future, including older youth,” said Department of Human Services Erin James. “We…remain committed to ensuring the safety and well-being of all children and youth.”

In California, Gov. Gavin Newsom has rolled out a plan that includes $1.85 million funds to extend foster care payments to young people past their 21st birthdays.

Philadelphia had already addressed at least one of the issues mentioned in the alumni association’s letter to the governor, said city Department of Human Services spokesperson Heather Keafer. Back on March 20, the agency declared a moratorium on discharging youth “who are not able to comply with work, education, or mental health requirements, due to the impact of COVID-19.”

The letter to Wolf is co-signed by more than 100 organizations, advocates and former foster youth.

“Juvenile Law Center fully supports the recommendations in the letter,” said Susan Vivian Mangold, CEO of the JLC, which signed on along with the Defender Association of Philadelphia, Child Advocacy Unit and Community Legal Services among others.

“This would obviously be a dangerous time for youth without family support to find themselves on their own.”

Steve is a freelance writer and investigative reporter at Resolve Philadelphia, a collaborative journalism project focused on problems and solutions. He has served as a contributing editor for Discover,...