In My Eyes: Limitations of the Affordable Care Act for Foster Youth

Dustin Haley
Dustin Haley

Today’s guest blog post is written by Dustin Haley, a CCAI 2013 intern, University of Texas undergraduate student, and former foster youth.

As the Affordable Care Act (ACA) is rolled out, many former foster youth will have increased availability for medical coverage.  Starting in 2014, youth who aged out of foster care will be eligible to remain on Medicaid until age 26, a huge win for child welfare advocates and former foster youth.

Youth in college will now have the peace of mind of always having their health insurance covered, and will not have to choose between books and medical care.  Former foster youth who are working part time will also be able to support themselves without having the unnecessary burden of healthcare costs. However, limitations to the ACA will negatively impact many of the former foster youth. As a former foster youth myself, I am all too familiar with these restrictions but it wasn’t until I started interning with CCAI that I learned I could advocate to change this policy.

First Focus, a bipartisan advocacy organization, recently took a look at this regulation, in addition to the rest of the ACA as it applies to foster youth.  They found that as it stands now, coverage will only be guaranteed to those who remain in the state where they resided when they were 18.  This is a huge issue for foster youth around the nation, as they often travel to different states for extended periods for school, jobs, or internships.  Many also move to be closer to support systems, whether they are close friends or extended family.  First Focus points out that restrictions on residency only apply to foster youth, not to adopted children nor to youth raised in a traditional family.

During CCAI’s summer Foster Youth Internship (FYI) Program, foster youth from around the nation come to DC work on Capitol Hill.  Most all of them come from different states and thus are not eligible to receive Medicaid in DC.  Since I’ve started interning at CCAI, I’ve learned about one of last summer’s interns, who ended up needing medical treatment, but experienced difficulties because he was not in his “home” state.

I contacted Josh to learn more about his experience and he explained how he had just returned from a trip to Ecuador when he started as an FYI participant last summer.  Soon thereafter, Josh started to experience serious stomach issues stemming from possible parasites contracted while abroad.  He went to a quick-service clinic in DC and had to pay full cost for treatment.  Unfortunately, the practitioners in the clinics are not specialists and could not figure out what he had contracted.  Seeing a specialist in DC would have cost Josh too much money out of pocket and was thus forced to fly back to Tennessee.  He was able to get the proper treatment from a specialist there and he soon recovered.

I too have run into the same struggles as Josh since being out of my home state—Texas—and completing my internship in DC this semester.  I recently injured my knee, but due to the limitations on Medicaid, I was not able to seek out treatment.  Had I seen a doctor, they would have surely ordered X-Rays and possibly an MRI.   Without insurance, these bills quickly add up.  My struggles, along with the struggles of all foster youth, should not be lost on child welfare advocates.

The Center for Medicaid and Medicare Services recently opened up to debate the section of the Affordable Care Act regarding former foster youth.   Organizations have been able to submit comments, many of which proposed medical coverage for former foster youth irrespective of the state they resided in when they were 18.   I, for one, hope to see change that eventually leads to greater benefits to the youth.

CCAI Legislative and Policy Update – January 2013

In this Update:

  • Adoption Tax Credit Extended in Tax Payer Relief Act
  • Russia Bans Adoptions to the United States
  • Universal Accreditation for Intercountry Adoptions in the U.S.
  • Uninterrupted Scholars Act Allows Access to Foster Youth School Records
  • U.S. Government Launches Action Plan on Children in Adversity
  • Supreme Court of the United States to Hear Indian Child Welfare Act Case on Adoption of Indian Child

***

Adoption Tax Credit Extended in Tax Payer Relief Act

The adoption tax credit, which can be claimed for eligible adoption-related expenses, has helped thousands of American families offset the high cost of adoption since the credit was established in 1997.  The American Taxpayer Relief Act permanently extends the adoption tax credit and income exclusion for employer paid or reimbursed adoption expenses up to $10,000 (adjusted for inflation).

  • Official estimates will be released later by the IRS, but the projected maximum amount of the adoption credit for 2013 is expected to be $12,770. While the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act made the adoption tax credit refundable for FY 2011 and 2012, the credit included in this latest extension is not refundable.

For a copy of the bill see the Text of the Bill from Senate Finance Committee website (the third PDF from the link provides a summary that lists the provisions in the bill).

To learn more about the adoption tax credit, its history and application please see:

Resources:

News Articles:

Russia Bans Adoptions to the United States

On December 28, 2012, President Putin signed Federal Law 18661406, known as the Yakovlev Act, prohibiting the adoption of Russian children by U.S. families effective on January 1, 2013.

  • Law is named after Dima Yakovlev, adopted as Chase Harrison, who died after being left by his U.S. adoptive father in a hot car in 2007.
  • Lawmakers in the Russian Duma have stated that the legislation is a direct response to the U.S. “Magnitsky Act” which is designed to address human rights violations by sanctioning a specific group of Russian officials connected to the death of a whistleblowing lawyer in a Moscow prison.
  • Passage of this law has entirely halted the adoptions of an estimated 500 to 1000 children to U.S. families who were at various stages in the adoption process when the law was passed.
  • State Department reports that they are aware of 565 pending adoptions: 57 cases where the adoptive family has already obtained an adoption decree from a Russian court, 234 cases where a waiting child has been officially matched with an American family, and 274 cases where State is currently unaware whether the family was officially matched with a child.
  • Department of State is working with the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) to create a comprehensive list of these and any additional U.S. families that may have approved suitability applications to understand the full universe of transition cases that will be impacted by the ban.

Several actions have been taken by Members of Congress in response to this crisis.

  • First, on December 21, 2012, Senators sent a letter to Putin asking for him to not sign the bill into law.
  • Shortly thereafter, the United States Senate passed S. Res. 628 and the House is expected to introduce a similar measure shortly.
  • Members have discussed taking other actions including sending a bicameral letter to President Obama, as well as asking the Russian Ambassador to the U.S. to come to Congress and brief both the House and Senate on his country’s intentions to process outstanding adoption cases.

Russia’s decision to abruptly end adoptions by the U.S. families is tragic for two reasons. First, that Russia would see fit to use their own children as political pawns, and second, that their actions did not evoke moral outrage by members of the global community.   Until a child’s right to a family is properly recognized as a basic human right, such violations can continue without serious consequences for anyone other than the children themselves.

Resources:

  • CCAI Country Overview on Russian Adoptions–View an overview on adoptions in Russia, links to the Department of State’s Office of Children’s Issues’ Russia Alerts and the U.S. Embassy in Moscow’s recent statements, as well as a recent congressional letter to President Putin and other helpful resources.

News Articles:

Universal Accreditation for Intercountry Adoptions in the U.S.

In 2000, The Intercountry Adoption Act required that adoption agencies assisting with an international adoption be accredited.  Where the IAA fell short is that it only applied to adoptions between countries that are both parties to the Hague Convention, meaning that if an adoption is between the U.S. and a non-Hague country such as Russia or Ethiopia, the agency performing the adoption does not have to be accredited and the family involved is left without the corresponding services and protections.

  • The Intercountry Adoption Universal Accreditation Act of 2012 eliminates the “dual track” system, as explained in CCAI’s What Barriers Remain Report and extends the terms of the Intercountry Adoption Act of 2000 to all adoption service providers offering or providing adoption services regardless of whether the child’s country of origin is a signatory to the Hague Convention on Intercountry Adoption.
  • The Senate version of the bill (S.3331) was passed by the House on January 1, 2013 and sent to the President for signature.

Resources:

News Articles:

Uninterrupted Scholars Act Allows Access to Foster Youth School Records

The Uninterrupted Scholars Act amended the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA). When FERPA was written in 1974, lawmakers’ intended to protect parents’ control over their children’s student records. However, because of FERPA, social workers had to obtain a court order to access the school records of a youth in foster care. This meant that youth in care, many of whom have multiple foster care placements, which resulted in school transfers, often had to retake classes or repeat grades because the child welfare agencies and schools could not effectively and efficiently communicate about an individual’s academic records. The Uninterrupted Scholars Act provides social workers access to school records in an effort to ease transitions and improve educational outcomes for foster youth.

Resources:

News Articles:

Action Plan on Children in Adversity

U.S. Government Launches Action Plan on Children in Adversity

The Action Plan is the first-ever whole-of-government strategic guidance on international assistance for children in adversity. The Plan provides a blueprint for the appropriate USG agencies to use in delivering coordinated and effective assistance to children who are vulnerable to violence, abuse, exploitation, and neglect and is governed by three core objectives:

  • Build strong beginnings:  The U.S. Government will help ensure that children under five not only survive, but also thrive by supporting comprehensive programs that promote sound development of children through the integration of health, nutrition, and family support.
  • Put family care first: U.S. Government assistance will support and enable families to care for their children, prevent unnecessary family-child separation, and promote appropriate, protective and permanent family care.
  • Protect children: The U.S. Government will facilitate the efforts of national governments and partners to prevent, respond to, and protect children from violence, exploitation, abuse, and neglect.

Within five years, the Plan calls for USG funded programs to achieve significant reductions in the number of children not meeting age-appropriate growth and developmental milestones; children living outside of family care; and children who experience violence or exploitation.

Resources:

News Articles:

Supreme Court of the United States to Hear Indian Child Welfare Act Case on Adoption of Indian Child

On January 4, 2012 the Supreme Court agreed to address a 1978 federal law underlying the adoption of American Indian children.  The last time the Court reviewed a case regarding the federal Indian Child Welfare Act was 24 years ago in the 1989 Mississippi Band of Choctaw Indians v. Holyfield.  Since that time, state supreme courts have been split in their decisions regarding the placements of Native American children impacted by the law.  The Court has agreed to hear the case of “Baby Veronica” who was adopted by a couple in South Carolina and later removed from her adoptive placement and placed with her biological father, a member of the Cherokee tribe living in Oklahoma.

Resources:

News Articles:

Senator Kerry Introduces Bill Based on Recommendation from CCAI Foster Youth Intern

As if graduating from Harvard isn’t impressive enough, former CCAI Foster Youth Intern (FYI) Maurissa Sorensen has yet another impressive accolade to add to her portfolio: Legislative Change Agent.

Each year the FYIs produce a legislative report in which they share their personal experiences with the child welfare system and present policy recommendations to address and improve adoption and foster care issues. In past years, these reports have generated both local and national attention to the critical issues facing the 408,000 children currently in the United States foster care system.

This summer, as part of her Foster Youth Internship report, Maurissa researched and provided concrete recommendations on how Congress could help make higher education more accessible to foster youth. As Maurissa explained in her report, “when I started community college, I was asked to fill out the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) form, which included checking a box stating that I was a foster youth. I now understand that the purpose of this box is to separate out youth who will not be able to comply with the sections of the form that address parental income. I spent more than seven years in community college and filled out the FAFSA form each year.  Unfortunately, during this time, no one from the federal government ever used this information that I was a foster youth to bring attention to the U.S. Department of Education that I was a student who may need additional resources and supports.”

To address this, Maurissa proposed:

Congress should amend the Higher Education Act of 1965 (HEA), to allow foster youth to receive information about the existence of Chafee and ETV funds as federal grant programs. Currently the HEA only allows foster youth to check “yes” to question 52 on the FAFSA form in order to avoid  having to provide the income of their parents. However, it could serve the critical role of alerting  the youth that they may be eligible for Chafee and ETV funds.

Former CCAI Foster Youth Intern, Maurissa Sorensen, presents her recommendations at the report briefing in July.
Former CCAI Foster Youth Intern, Maurissa Sorensen, presents her recommendations at the report briefing in July.

Fast forward four months later to this afternoon when Senator John Kerry introduced the Foster Youth Higher Education Opportunities Act.  Here is an excerpt from Senator Kerry’s floor speech about the bill, which would ensure that FAFSA is used as a tool to notify foster youth when they are eligible for education assistance programs:

I am greatly concerned that too many of our nation’s foster youth are unable to appropriately access critical federal programs that provide assistance to help increase their educational opportunities.  Higher education can hold the key to a future of stability and it is unacceptable that many foster youth who are eligible for higher education funds, such as Education and Training Vouchers (ETV) and support through the John H. Chafee Foster Care Independence Program, are never told about these programs. 

 This is why I have worked with my colleagues to introduce a bipartisan bill to direct the Department of Education to fully utilize the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) as a tool to notify foster youth of all federal funds which may be available to support their pursuit of higher education, and include information specifically for foster youth on their agency website.  The Foster Youth Higher Education Opportunities Act will automate the notification to foster youth of their potential eligibility for programs that serve as a lifeline to a better future. 

According to CCAI Executive Director Kathleen Strottman, “It has been my experience that the voices of foster care alumni are the ones we should be listening to more than any others. When they speak, things actually stand a chance of getting better. Not because their stories remind us of how far we have yet to go, but because their ingenuity and passion for making a difference show us just how far we can reach.”

Truer words have never been spoken.

 

Click here to read Maurissa’s full report: http://bit.ly/OrS96H

 

Post-Partisan; the Power of Foster Care Politics

Note: This article originally appeared in The Chronicle of Social Change

While the nation bemoans a “gridlocked” Congress and Comedy Central’s Messrs. Stewart and Colbert aptly ridicule both Presidential candidates for a disregard of specificity on one hand and hubris on the other, I have borne witness to a very different vision of our elected leadership.

Instead of obstruction and partisanship, at least around one issue – foster care – I have seen members of Congress from both houses and sides of the aisle move at notable speed to introduce important, thoughtful legislation; respectfulness between ideologically disparate leaders; and an ability to transform the recommendations of experts in child welfare and foster youth themselves into cogent policy.

This story begins in Miami on March 31, during the second stop of the Congressional Caucus on Foster Youth’s National Listening Tour. Caucus co-founder Rep. Karen Bass (D-Calif.) sits aside Rep. Frederica Wilson (D-Fla.) and Rep. Alcee Hastings (D-Fla.) at an enormous rectangle of tables peopled with Florida’s child welfare leaders. Mary Cagle, Director of Children’s Legal Services for Florida’s Department of Children and Family Services, describes how the Family Educational Records and Privacy Act (FERPA) – intended to protect against disclosure of student records to parties other than school officials or biological parents – creates difficulties for foster children, who are no longer in the custody of their biological parents.

Amending FERPA would allow social workers access to student records, she says, helping them make critical decisions in how to best mitigate foster children’s educational challenges and celebrate their successes.

“Education is one of the biggest indicators for the happiness of our kids, so we really want the federal government to take a look at the tension in this law,” Cagle says to the assembled members of Congress.

Two short months later, on the last day of May, National Foster Care Awareness Month, Rep. Bass and Foster Youth Caucus Co-Founders Michele Bachmann (R-Minn.), Rep. Jim McDermott (D-Wash.) and Rep. Tom Marino (R-Penn.) introduced a bill that would eliminate that tension by allowing child welfare agencies direct access to the records of students in foster care, and allow for aggregate data to be used in studies intended on improving educational outcomes for students in foster care.

“This was an issue waiting to be resolved,” Rep. Bass said in an interview on the eve of the bill’s introduction, which would eventually take the name of the Uninterrupted Scholars Act. “The thought had already been put in, all we did was take advantage of the thinking and the work that was in place.”

Through the summer, foster care advocates and hill staff worked behind the scenes to elevate the issue and make sure it carried momentum through an increasingly static legislative season. As is so often the case with child welfare issues, it was a combination of expert analysis and foster youth perspective that moved the Uninterrupted Scholars Act into the Senate, increasing the likelihood it will become law before the end of this Congress.

On July 20, R.J. Sloke sat down with Sen. Roy Blunt (R-Mo.) to tell the lawmaker his story of growing up in foster care. It was the last day of Sloke’s internship through theCongressional Coalition on Adoption Institute’s Foster Youth Internship (FYI) Program, which places foster youth in the offices of Members of Congress.

The 2012 Foster Youth Interns immediately following their briefing on July 31, 2012.

“It felt really good,” Sloke said after a briefing in the Senate Visitor’s Center where he and 12 other of this year’s Foster Youth Interns released a report entitled “Hear Me Now” filled with their policy recommendations. “I told him about my high school situation and how the bill [Uninterrupted Scholars] would have helped me.”

According to the report he contributed to “Hear Me Now,” Sloke lived in 25 foster care placements in the five years he was care before his 18th birthday. All the bouncing through foster homes and group homes resulted in his attending a dozen different high schools.

“My caseworkers and schools failed to communicate with each other as I would transfer schools resulting in my not receiving credits to go on to the next grade,” he wrote in the report. Despite taking ninth grade three times, Sloke managed to graduate at 19.

Sloke’s story touched Blunt, who signed on as a co-sponsor of the Uninterrupted Scholars Act. On August 2nd, Sens. Mary Landrieu (D-La.), Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa), Mark Begich (D-Ala.), Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.), Al Franken (D-Minn.), Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.) introduced the law into the Senate.

In an interview just minutes before the bill was run to the Senate floor, Sen. Landrieu, Co-Founder of the Senate Caucus on Foster Youth, described just how important hearing from youth like Sloke is to legislators.

“This kid, even after having to go through ninth grade three times, not because he couldn’t do the work but because the system had lost his records, now he’s gone on to graduate…. He will be a phenomenal leader in our nation but you know this is just way beyond what should be required. That is R.J.’s situation and there are thousands of other cases like it.”

Much like the House bill, Uninterrupted Scholars will: give child welfare agencies access to foster student records; allow for the use of educational records in studies related to promoting the educational success and stability of foster youth; and eliminate the need for duplicative, time-consuming notice when transferring records.

2012 Foster Youth Intern R.J. Sloke with Rep. Karen Bass (D-Calif.). Sloke played a key role in a collective effort to maintain momentum behind the Uninterrupted Scholar’s Act.

On August 3rd, the day before Congress took its summer recess, I had a chance to sit with Congressional Caucus on Foster Youth co-chair Michele Bachmann. After explaining her experience as a foster mother to 23 foster children and five “biologicals,” Bachmann took a moment to explain the significance of having caucuses on Foster Youth in both houses.

“A lot of people think we can never talk about anything in Congress, that everything is gridlock and everything is partisan, and it isn’t at all. So both Congresswoman Bass and myself have come together. We created the Foster Youth Caucus, a bi-partisan caucus to elevate the issue of the problems and challenges that families deal with, with foster care, because we want solutions. That’s what we are about. Positive solutions to actually help the life situations for families in challenging situations.”

Representative Bachmann discusses the importance of the Uninterrupted Scholars Act. 

While Bachmann — like Landrieu had the day before — repeatedly referenced the goal of finding “forever families,” she noted the importance of Uninterrupted Scholars.

“We filed our bill in the House, now we see the Senate’s followed suit. We do have time yet in the remainder of this year to advance the cause of children in challenging circumstances that is what we are here to be about…. Our goal is to place children in forever families, but along the way, along the path of that journey we want them to have the best possible educational [opportunities], because if there is anything I learned personally as a foster mother its that our foster children needed a leg up.”

Congress will reconvene in early September, just as hundreds of thousands of American students start a new school year. If momentum carries Uninterrupted Scholars through, students in foster care may have that much needed leg up on the road to educational success.

Daniel Heimpel is the Executive Director of Fostering Media Connections and the Publisher of the Chronicle of Social Change. 

The webcast and action guide are now available!

Yesterday, CCAI and Fostering Media Connections held national conversation on foster care and education, linking policymakers in D.C. and Los Angeles with researchers from Chapin Hall in Chicago, and teachers and former foster youth in Sacramento via webcast.  Watch the full webcast below, and be sure to read the Rescuing Forgotten Futures action guide for information about how anyone can help a foster youth succeed in school.

Join us for an Oct. 19 webcast on the intersection of education and foster care

Join us for a “National Conversation” on the intersection of education and foster care that will leave you with a reasonable expectation of radical social change on Wednesday, October 19th at 3pm ET RIGHT HERE.

When Americans contemplate the impending debate over education reform, the majority is not likely to consider the lessons to be learned from foster care.  Research consistently suggests that childhood trauma, placement instability and myriad other factors leave many students in foster care far behind their peers in almost all academic measures. Despite this reality, stakeholders from both child welfare and education across the country are proving that tight collaboration can yield dramatic results for students in foster care. This signals an opportunity to apply these lessons to wider populations of vulnerable students struggling through similar educational impediments.

On October 18th, the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions (HELP) Committee will begin the long awaited overhaul of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act, commonly referred to as No Child Left Behind. It is doubtful that the ensuing media coverage will focus much attention on students in foster care, creating an incredible opportunity to merge the narrative of education reform with the bright spots in a nationwide effort to improve the educational outcomes of students in foster care.

In an effort to highlight and bolster this national movement, the Congressional Coalition on Adoption Institute (CCAI) and Fostering Media Connections (FMC) have organized an unprecedented “National Conversation” on the intersection of education and foster care.

On OCTOBER 19th, as Congress begins to publicly grapple with education reform, teachers and students In California, researchers in Illinois and policymakers in Washington DC will share effective strategies to improve educational outcomes for students in foster care. All the proceedings will be transmitted live, over the Internet. Further, CCAI and FMC will release a report laden with research, legislative history, on-the-ground journalistic accounts and a broad range of recommendations.

WHO:

Sen. Mary Landrieu: (D-LA): Co-Chair of the Senate Caucus on Foster Youth.

Sen. Chuck Grassley: (R-IA): Co-Chair of the Senate Caucus on Foster Youth.

George Sheldon: Acting Assistant Secretary Administration for Children and Families, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services

Cheryl Smithgall: Researcher Fellow at Chapin Hall at the University of Chicago

Mike Jones: Teacher and Co-Founder of Courageous Connection in Sacramento, CA

Carey Sommer: High School graduate through Courageous Connection

Jetaine Hart: Former CCAI Foster Youth Intern and current Educational Mentor for Foster Youth at Alameda County Office of Education, Foster Youth Services

WHEN: 12:00 PM PST – 1:30 // 2:00 PM CST – 3:30 // 3:00 PM EST – 4:30

DATA & RESEARCH: Find a link to the National Working Group on Foster Care and Education‘s 2011 fact sheet on educational outcomes for students in foster care entitled: “Education is the Lifeline for Youth in Foster Care”