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Turning 21 During a Pandemic

April 17, 2020

Photo of foster child.

Excitement. Independence. Anticipation. 

These are all words someone might use when they turn 21. For DC’s foster youth, their 21st birthday comes with a heavier burden. They need to find a place to live, pay for food, rent and transportation, and line up a job that makes enough money – with little or no support from their family.

The shift into adulthood is hard for most young people living in DC. Imagine having to take that huge step during a pandemic.

We knew right away that the public health crisis would put DC’s foster youth who are about to turn 21 in an impossible position. It is why we fought to make sure these young adults were not forgotten in the recent emergency legislation. Children’s Law Center partnered with Councilmember Brianne Nadeau and DC’s Child and Family Services Agency to give these young adults more time to prepare for this critical transition.

The legislation ensures foster youth turning 21 can continue receiving the support and resources they need through the foster care system until 90 days after the public health emergency is over. It is a huge win and will help them stay afloat during a storm that is already hitting them much harder than their peers.

For the foster youth we work with, it was life-changing news. 

One 20-year-old was on track to graduate high school in June—a month before he turned 21. He was on top of his classes and felt good about what he needed to do to finish. Then the pandemic hit, and he spent the last month waiting for a computer to come from his school so he could do his schoolwork. With little to no news on how this would impact his graduation, he had been nervous and worried about what this meant for his future.

Complicating things even further, he was hoping to get a place to live but housing options are limited and most are not accepting new applicants during the pandemic.

His Children’s Law Center lawyer said it had been incredibly scary for him until he heard the good news about our advocacy efforts. “He’s relieved knowing he won’t be kicked out on the streets in a few months if he doesn’t have a place to live,” she shared.

For more than two decades, Children’s Law Center has advocated for policies that improve the lives of children who are too often forgotten. This legislation is just one of many we have fought for—and won. 

No pandemic is going to stop us from continuing that fight.

Sharra E. Greer
Policy Director