The Indiana Department of Child Services announced Jan. 16 it will expand services to those who have aged out of the foster care system up to age 23.
Services were previously available up to age 21.
Gov. Eric Holcomb recently signed a certification allowing the state to tap into federal John H. Chafee Foster Care Independence Program funds. These funds can now be used for services for adults up to age 23 after President Trump signed the Family First Prevention Services Act in February 2018 extending the resources.
This certification will take effect Feb. 1. It follows a 2018 evaluation of DCS by the nonprofit Child Welfare Policy and Practice Group that recommended the agency expand services to older youth.
“Our older foster youth need all the help they can receive to ensure a smoother start into adulthood, whether that’s to offset living costs or funding their education,” DCS director Terry Stigdon said in a press release. “Extending services for two more years ensures they have crucial resources at their disposal.”
Teens in the foster care system age out of foster homes when they turn 18. At that point, they can access other optional services, including helping with budgeting, finding a job, finding affordable housing and finding further education until age 21, said Noelle Russell, deputy director of communications for DCS, in an email.
These services will now be available to people up to age 23.
“These are all geared toward developing independent living skills that will increase the chance of foster youth making a successful transition to adulthood,” Russell said.
Allie Missler, 47, of Carmel, Indiana, fosters emergency placements for DCS. This means she and her husband Tom take in children for usually one or two nights while they are transitioning into foster care or between homes.
Missler called it ludicrous that youth age out of some types of foster care at 18, but said she believes DCS does the best they can with the resources available to them.
“Think about your life,” she said. “If at age 18 your family put you out the door, what would you do? Most kids in college have no idea what they would do.”
Expanding DCS resources and assistance to older youth will hopefully improve their transitions out of foster care and set them up for success in further education or the workforce, according to a DCS press release.
Missler and her husband have taken in 26 children since they began fostering in February 2018, from days-old infants to 17-year-olds.
Occasionally, Missler said, they will take an infant home from the hospital to foster for a couple months if no one else is available.
The last infant they fostered was the second child of a 19-year-old woman whose parents are incarcerated, Missler said. The woman is in jail and her first child is already in DCS care.
“I would argue that she needed a foster parent,” Missler said of the young mom. “She needed care.”
The expansion of services for older youth does not allow them to re-enter or remain in foster care, but will allow them to access optional DCS resources for longer.
As of May 2018, there were 16,407 total children in foster care with around half of those children placed with relatives instead of foster families or group homes, according to the 2018 evaluation of DCS.
There are currently 121 youth over age 18 receiving voluntary services through DCS and partner organizations, according to a DCS press release.
Editor's Note: A previous version of this article listed a different start date for the expansion. The certification will now take effect Feb. 1.