For Youth in Foster Care, the Road to Driving is a Bumpy Ride

Posted February 26, 2019
By the Annie E. Casey Foundation
Young woman behind the wheel of a pickup truck

Learn­ing to dri­ve is an excit­ing and near­ly essen­tial mile­stone for young peo­ple today. Yet, for youth exit­ing fos­ter care, this rite of pas­sage is often lit­tered with obsta­cles — from DMV fees to cost­ly auto­mo­bile insur­ance rates.

Youth in fos­ter care meet chal­lenges each step of the way — when apply­ing for their per­mit, enrolling in driver’s edu­ca­tion pro­grams, par­tic­i­pat­ing in super­vised dri­ving, pur­chas­ing cars and obtain­ing car insur­ance,” writes Lucy John­ston-Walsh a law pro­fes­sor who runs the Children’s Advo­ca­cy Clin­ic for Penn State’s School of Law.

This is a top­ic John­ston-Walsh knows well. She authored Behind the Wheel — a report based on research fund­ed by the Annie E. Casey Foun­da­tion — after a coun­ty pol­i­cy in Penn­syl­va­nia banned her long­time client, Lara Hollinger, then age 18, from own­ing a car. The issue? Hollinger’s fos­ter care status.

Behind the Wheel iden­ti­fies com­mon chal­lenges that young peo­ple like Hollinger face and rec­om­mends pol­i­cy moves that states can make to help these youth get behind the wheel — and get ahead in life. This advice includes:

  • allo­cat­ing state fund­ing to pay for car insur­ance, dri­ver edu­ca­tion cours­es, and licens­ing fees for fos­ter youth;
  • sim­pli­fy­ing per­mit and license appli­ca­tion forms to not assign lia­bil­i­ty to the adult sign­er of appli­ca­tion forms; and
  • work­ing to ensure that fos­ter youth have access to dri­ver train­ing by offer­ing pro­grams and pro­vid­ing fund­ing to incor­po­rate this train­ing into the tran­si­tion plans for independence.

In 2017, Hollinger and John­ston-Walsh brought their con­cerns to a local judge and argued — suc­cess­ful­ly — that the pol­i­cy lim­it­ed a young person’s inde­pen­dence and penal­ized them for cir­cum­stances beyond their control.

Despite this progress, Hollinger — who even­tu­al­ly left care over this issue — points out that there is still more work to do. I think a lot of peo­ple still need to under­stand how much hard­er it is to get insur­ance or to get the hours behind the wheel when you are in care,” she says.

Beyond the Report

In addi­tion to sup­port­ing Johnston-Walsh’s research, the Foun­da­tion has also fund­ed the State Pol­i­cy Advo­ca­cy & Reform Cen­ter (SPARC), a non­par­ti­san cen­ter focused on sup­port­ing state advo­cates who are pur­su­ing child wel­fare reforms. In con­junc­tion with the non­prof­it First Focus, SPARC has launched Going Places — an ini­tia­tive focused on iden­ti­fy­ing and advanc­ing pol­i­cy solu­tions that can help young peo­ple in fos­ter care obtain a driver’s license.

As part of these efforts, Going Places pro­files pro­grams that are help­ing youth in care get on the road. One such suc­cess sto­ry — which Behind the Wheel touts as a mod­el to fol­low — is Keys to Inde­pen­dence, a three-year pilot cre­at­ed by the state leg­is­la­ture in Flori­da. The pro­gram allows reim­burse­ments on learner’s and driver’s license fees, test­ing fees, traf­fic and sub­stance abuse cours­es, driver’s edu­ca­tion cours­es and insur­ance costs for youth in fos­ter care.

Read more about sup­port­ing young peo­ple as they tran­si­tion from fos­ter care

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