Advocates Hope Federal Relief Funding Meant For Foster Kids Won’t Go To Waste
22-year-old Alexa Minson is on her way to becoming a social worker. After returning home last year from her mission with The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, she’s been working and taking classes at Salt Lake Community College. Next year, she hopes to transfer to the University of Utah, where she’ll continue her studies and ultimately help kids who are growing up in similar situations to hers.
Federal COVID relief money has given former foster youth like Minson an additional boost. Utah received over $2 million that could be used for everything from rent to car payments. The package also expanded eligibility for after-care services until the age of 27, where normally they’d be cut off after 23.
But Minson is one of only a handful of former foster youth who have received any money. Only 7% of the money has been spent so far, according to the Utah Department of Human Services. While the funding is available until September 2022, former foster youth between the ages of 23 and 27 won’t have access after October 1.
Minson said going into the system comes with its challenges, from navigating bureaucratic hurdles to the feeling of having case workers constantly monitoring her. But it’s also provided resources to help her through school, even after she aged out of the system.
Still, she said one problem in getting more people like her to apply for financial assistance is it can be an overwhelming process.
“We're told about the resources in the middle of a crisis,” she said. “And so usually when people are in the middle of a crisis and they're told a bunch of important information about resources, I think it goes in one ear, out the other.”
Milton Gale, a transition coordinator for the Utah Division of Child and Family Services, said getting people to apply for the money has been a major challenge. The biggest issue is they are reluctant to seek help because they worry they’ll get sucked back into the system, he said.
“A lot of them don't want to come back to get after-care services or talk to a coordinator because they think we're going to control their life,” Gale said. “They feel like those strings are attached. And so it's our job as coordinators to try to help them succeed and communicate that there aren't those strings attached.”
For people in the 18-27 age range, he said they should be “blowing up our phones” to get their hands on the federal financial assistance.
Realistically, former foster youth between 23 and 27 are unlikely to be able to get any COVID funds before their eligibility expires, as there is a lengthy process to register if they have not already been receiving after-care services. But Gale said the goal is to spend all of the money available and hopes he can help get the rest out to the former foster youth who will still qualify.
He said he’s also hopeful that some of the changes ushered in by the COVID funds might stay, such as fewer restrictions around how after-care funds can be spent.
Minson will still be eligible for support another year. After that, she said she’s hoping she can line up scholarships to continue her studies without having to work full-time. Either way, though, she said she’ll make it work.