COVID-19 Law Giving Older Youth Option to Re-Enter Foster Care, Access Aftercare Services

PA Department of Human Services

HARRISBURG, PA — Department of Human Services (DHS) Acting Secretary Meg Snead this week marked National Foster Care Month by encouraging older youth previously served through the foster care system to contact their county child welfare agency for help accessing aftercare services, including an option for some youth to re-enter foster care as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic.

The Consolidated Appropriations Act of 2021 included a provision called the Supporting Foster Youth and Families through the Pandemic Act that allows youth who left foster care due to age during the COVID-19 public health emergency to voluntarily re-enter foster care until September 30, 2021, regardless of current age. The law also provides additional funding and temporary program flexibilities to address the critical financial needs of youth who are or were formerly in foster care.

“Because many of these young people, once discharged from foster care, lack access to stable housing, income, and other resources that may be available to youth/young adults with more family or kinship supports, the funding and flexibilities provided are critical to ensuring youth are protected and supported,” Acting Secretary Snead said. “Without support, there is a very real risk that youth who have left the foster care system will become homeless or experience other negative outcomes.”

Research shows that youth who age out or leave foster care without a permanent family and permanent meaningful connections experience worse outcomes than that of their peers in the general population. Former foster youth are disproportionately represented among young adults experiencing homelessness and unemployment and those entering mental health and substance use disorder and criminal justice systems.

In addition to temporarily re-opening foster care to youth who exited due to age during the public-health emergency, the Consolidated Appropriations Act extended eligibility for aftercare services and Education and Training Grants through age 26, as well as waived some eligibility criteria for former foster youth. This will also expire on September 30, 2021. More information is available online through the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.

Acting Secretary Snead also encouraged Pennsylvanians to consider opening their hearts and homes to a child in need of temporary foster care, especially older youth.

“We are always in need of more foster parents who can provide a loving home for children. That was true before the pandemic, and it is true now,” Acting Secretary Snead said. “It takes a special type of person to provide stability to children in crisis when their own home has stopped being the right place for them to live, at least for the time being. But that doesn’t mean they’ve stopped needing what all kids need: security, nurturing and guidance. Foster parents step in and provide those protections temporarily.”

The Statewide Adoption and Permanency Network (SWAN) is administered by DHS’ Office of Children, Youth, and Families. SWAN is a program dedicated to working on behalf of children in foster care who need permanent homes. The network is a collection of state, county, and private agencies that match children in need of adoption and coordinates permanency-related services for children and post-permanency services to families. Families interested in learning more about becoming a foster or adoptive family should contact the SWAN Helpline toll-free at 1-800-585-7926. More information is available online at

DHS also administers the Unaccompanied Refugee Minor (URM) Program, which originated in the 1980s to address the needs of children who arrived in the U.S. from Southeast Asia, due to the Vietnam conflict, without a parent or guardian to care for them. The program is part of the state’s Refugee Resettlement Program and serves to provide culturally and linguistically appropriate foster care to unaccompanied refugee youth who are unable to return to their home countries because of past persecution or a well-founded fear of persecution on account of race, religion, nationality, membership of a particular social group or political opinion.

All youth in the URM program are carefully screened as refugees eligible for resettlement, and most are between 15 and 17 years old when they are referred for foster care placement. Families and individuals interested in fostering an unaccompanied refugee minor should contact the program at [email protected].

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