The Chafee ETV Program makes financial resources available to meet the postsecondary education and training needs of youth aging out of foster care and enrolled in a qualified higher education program. The program was established in 2001 by Congress as part of a reauthorization of the Promoting Safe and Stable Families Act.2 The Act amended the Foster Care Independence Act (FCIA) of 1999 by adding the Chafee ETV Program as the sixth purpose of the Chafee Foster Care Independence Program (CFCIP).The Chafee ETV Program makes vouchers of up to $5,000 per year available to young adults coming from foster care to support their costs of attending institutions of higher education, as defined in the Higher Education Act of 1965. This expands and supplements the assistance authorized in the FCIA of 1999 to help youth transitioning out of foster care to prepare for, enroll in, and be successful in postsecondary training and education institutions.

While the overall Chafee Foster Care Independence Program has a general annual mandatory appropriation of $140 million, the Chafee ETV Program authorizes up to $60 million in discretionary funds.

Unlike the rest of the Chafee Program, ETV funds can only be used to provide resources for youth participating in eligible postsecondary educational and training programs. The first appropriation to the program was made in 2003 in the amount of $42 million. From 2003–2007, the amount appropriated each year has varied between $44 and $46 million, with some reductions caused by HHS administration and evaluation costs, as well as across-the-board budget cuts made by Congress. States receive an annual allocation based on their percentage of children and youth placed in foster care, and they have two years to spend each year’s allocation. States are then required to provide 20 percent of their annually allocated amount in cash or in-kind match.

As part of the FCIA of 1999, Congress also authorized states to extend Medicaid coverage to youth aging out of foster care. States may elect to offer the Medicaid extension to young people up to age 19, 20, or 21. According to a 2007 study done by the American Public Human Services Association (APHSA), 17 states have so far enacted the “Chafee option” and five more are planning to do so. The study also found that the cost of providing such care is only $110 to $350 per month.  Other states may provide continuing health care via extension of foster care status beyond age 18 or through other state-funded healthcare programs.

Chafee ETV Program Implementation

Implementation of the Chafee ETV Program has presented significant challenges to the six states profiled, especially in relation to setting up new administrative processes in the first two years; identifying and informing potential voucher recipients; informing child welfare, Independent Living, and higher education staff; and expending all of the available funds within the two-year time limit. From interviews with federal staff and state child welfare administrators, we conclude that states have fully organized the Chafee ETV Program within state government or through contracting with other public or private entities, and are expending all available funds. States have also made significant improvements in efforts to reach out to eligible foster youth, including American Indian youth served by tribal child welfare programs.

Stronger collaborative relationships between child welfare agencies, service providers, and higher education representatives have also contributed to more effective implementation of the Chafee ETV Program. States report that the Chafee ETV Program contributes to greater motivation and interest in attending college or other postsecondary education and training programs among youth from foster care, increased rates of college attendance, and more efforts to support the educational aspirations of those youth through additional scholarship dollars or state tuition waivers. For example, the rapidly expanding Guardian Scholars program in California, as well as other models being implemented in other states, provides both scholarship dollars and support services for young people attending college.

While states have made great progress over the past several years, gaps in program implementation remain an issue of concern, largely related to the states’ ability to collect information regarding the overall Chafee Foster Care Independence Program and the Chafee ETV Program. There is a need for increased investment on the part of the federal government, the states, and communities to effectively monitor the quality and quantity of services provided, as well as the outcomes experienced by young people.

Chafee ETV Program Outcomes

The Foster Care Independence Act of 1999 requires the Secretary of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), in consultation with key stakeholders, to develop a set of outcomes and measures to assess states’ performance with respect to their effectiveness in assisting youth in making a successful transition from foster care to independent living The FCIA requires states to collect data in order to track: The number and characteristics of young people receiving services under the CFCIP (including the Chafee ETV Program) The type and quantity of services being provided State performance on youth outcome measures developed by HHS

In 2000 and 2001, HHS worked with stakeholders nationwide to develop a state performance assessment tool designated as the National Youth in Transition Database (NYTD). In 2001, HHS announced that it would issue a regulation on state implementation of data collection and performance assessment processes.

Implementation of NYTD continues to be delayed as the regulatory process is completed. A Notice of Proposed Rulemaking was released for public comment in July 2006, and a final rule is anticipated some time in 2007. Projections for when the state performance process would be initiated range from 2008 to 2010.

Until such time as NYTD is released, states will be unable to track and report consistent information as required by federal law. This issue only becomes more urgent as advocates, state child welfare leaders, and young people themselves struggle to ensure that there are adequate and effective supports for youth leaving foster care, including those services and supports offered through the Chafee ETV Program.

State Investment

There continues to be great concern among communities about the well-being and success of youth leaving foster care, especially as it relates to postsecondary education readiness, access, and retention success. Many states have invested additional funds in transition and education services, ranging from state-funded scholarship programs to tuition waivers and needs based grants to targeted support programs for youth in college. Growing private/public collaborations have resulted in the development of targeted college support programs for students from foster care. For example, the Guardian Scholars Program model has spread to well over 20 campuses in California. Similar programs have been started in Texas, Indiana, Washington, and Florida. ETVs are an important part of these students’ financial aid packages, and financial aid offices play an important role in outreach to eligible students as well as in ETV funds distribution.

Many state Independent Living Program staff, as well as ETV contractor organizations’ staff, are dedicating significant time (both funded and unfunded) to individualized comprehensive supports for youth in postsecondary programs.

These include mentoring services, care packages, leadership opportunities, internships, health insurance, housing, and the assurance that someone is available to talk or to help any time and every time it’s needed.

While the need for improved data collection and performance assessment is evident, it is also clear that increased attention to, and resources for, these young people are helping more and more students achieve their dreams