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Drowning and Forgotten: Former Foster Youth with Disabilities

Aging out of foster care is already hard for the average foster youth, but it can be even harder when that foster youth has a disability. Having a disability compounds the financial instability that many of us already face. Housing instability, poverty, employment instability, living paycheck to paycheck, and many other financial barriers are all things that foster youth already face, but people with disabilities are at higher risk for all this on top of having increased expenses relating to their disability. According to the National Disability Institute, a household with a disability that impacts employment will need an additional $17,690 of income a year, on average, to obtain the same standard of living as a household without a member with a disability.

These numbers are stark in comparison to the average monthly payments of social security benefits that are available for people with disabilities, many of which are less than foster care pays foster parents to take care of a young person in their care. According to the Social Security Administration, if you are on Supplemental Security Income (SSI), the average payment is $841 a month, and the average payment for Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI), which is based on former employment, is $1,350 a month. These are not reasonable amounts of income for people who need to fully support themselves, especially considering the statistics from the National Disability Institute that says we need an extra $1,474 a month to achieve the same standard of living.

We aren’t even getting the additional income needed with social security benefits. This barrier is even worse for former foster youth who do not qualify for benefits. Disability benefits and services are set up with assumptions that the disabled person will have a support system to help them manage care and support needs. This is not always the case for those of us who are exiting the foster care system, or even those currently in it. Without help, we are often required to pay for additional support if we are not receiving social security benefits. Having a disability can impact our ability to keep reliable and steady income. We may need to use more sick time or call out of work and sacrifice the much-needed income. We face discrimination in employment, and the employment protections prove inadequate in protecting us.

Transportation can be a major barrier as well, with transit being wildly inaccessible for mobility aid and wheelchair users, and the increased cost of transportation to disability-related appointments. Travel can cause people with disabilities pain or trigger a flare-up of their conditions. Medical insurance can also be woefully inadequate, requiring us to pay higher out-of-pocket costs, or pay for medications and aids over the counter because they are not covered. All of these things make an already unbearable financial situation much worse for foster youth with disabilities. Everything we do requires additional steps to ensure that we can access it. It can be incredibly draining to have to deal with financial stress while trying to support ourselves completely.

We need to address the financial barriers that young people in care currently face. We need to make sure that these disability rights movements include the additional barriers that foster youth with disabilities face. Trauma and long-term stress in childhood puts us at much higher risk of having a disability. Yet, we do not usually include disabled foster youth in conversations around policy changes within child welfare. The Covid-19 pandemic and the subsequent inflation is just making it that much harder for foster youth with disabilities. A lot of us do not have access to safe employment and are forced to put ourselves at risk in order to support ourselves. With the lifting of mask mandates, we are more likely to get Covid-19 and other respiratory viruses that could lead to us having additional and potentially permanent disabilities on top of our existing ones. It is time to change that and start talking about this glaring overlap in populations.

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