New Mexico Legislature Extends Foster Care to Age 21

Posted April 18, 2019
By the Annie E. Casey Foundation
NMCAN Youth Leaders

Every year in New Mex­i­co, near­ly 200 youth — many lack­ing a sta­ble home or strong sup­port sys­tem — tran­si­tion out of fos­ter care. NMCAN Youth Lead­ers know this sto­ry all too well. They’ve lived it. Now, they’ve made sure that oth­ers fol­low­ing in their path will have a bet­ter option.

In March 2019, the New Mex­i­co leg­is­la­ture passed a bill extend­ing fos­ter care to age 21. NMCAN Youth Lead­ers helped draft and advance the bill, which pro­vides con­tin­ued hous­ing, case work­er sup­port and liv­ing stipends. Equal­ly impor­tant: It gives youth more time to fin­ish school, devel­op skills to be suc­cess­ful adults and build net­works of sup­port. Research shows young peo­ple in extend­ed fos­ter care are more like­ly to obtain a high school diplo­ma or equiv­a­lent cre­den­tial than their peers who age out of the sys­tem at 18.

Youth in New Mex­i­co face unique bar­ri­ers that are out of their con­trol, like mul­ti-gen­er­a­tional pover­ty, high lev­els of home­less­ness and his­tor­i­cal trau­ma,” explains Ezra Spitzer, exec­u­tive direc­tor of NMCAN, a site with the Annie E. Casey Foundation’s Jim Casey Youth Oppor­tu­ni­ties Ini­tia­tive®. Extend­ing the age of fos­ter care sim­ply pro­vides more time and age-appro­pri­ate sup­port to nav­i­gate these chal­lenges and suc­cess­ful­ly tran­si­tion into adulthood.”

The young peo­ple involved in the bill’s evo­lu­tion have expe­ri­enced fos­ter care or oth­er sys­tems first­hand. The Youth Lead­ers worked to iden­ti­fy and engage spon­sors. They also advo­cat­ed for the bill, speak­ing at leg­isla­tive hear­ings, shar­ing their sto­ries with state rep­re­sen­ta­tives and tes­ti­fy­ing in committee.

When I aged out of fos­ter care at 18, I didn’t have a house to go to or some­one to even help me fig­ure out how to find an apart­ment,” said Mar­garet Vil­le­gas, a mem­ber of the Youth Lead­ers team who helped advo­cate for the bill. Had I been able to stay in care longer, I would have been able to talk to oth­ers who had been through that tran­si­tion and got­ten more support.”

This bill means a lot to me per­son­al­ly,” says DeAn­ge­lo Mon­toya, a mem­ber of the Youth Lead­ers team. When I was in the sys­tem, every choice was made for me. With this bill, I had the oppor­tu­ni­ty to advo­cate for myself and oth­er youth. I was ner­vous at first, but my con­fi­dence grew every time I spoke with leg­is­la­tors because I knew I was telling them some­thing about fos­ter care that they had not heard before.”

The law, which will allow youth to opt in or out of extend­ed care, will be effec­tive in July 2019 and imple­ment­ed over the next few years. It makes New Mex­i­co the 29th state in the coun­try to extend fos­ter care to 21 in a way that max­i­mizes the fed­er­al con­tri­bu­tion to cov­er the cost. NMCAN and the Youth Lead­ers plan to stay involved — work­ing to make eli­gi­bil­i­ty as broad as pos­si­ble, espe­cial­ly for youth who are home­less or who have expe­ri­enced homelessness.

As some­one who has been in fos­ter care and had so many deci­sions made for me, one of the most impor­tant parts for me about the bill’s imple­men­ta­tion is that youth can opt in and out of the extend­ed care any time they choose,” says Vil­le­gas. I am glad I could use my voice to make things eas­i­er for those who are in care now. It is pos­si­ble to make change, but you have to go beyond read­ing the bud­gets and paper­work and actu­al­ly lis­ten to those who have lived it.”

Learn more about how old­er youth are far­ing in each state as they tran­si­tion to adulthood

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