February 17, 2020

Bill that helps kids who ‘age out’ of foster care passes Senate

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Wikicommons

New Mexico State Senate.

A bill to provide support to children who have “aged out” of foster care but still need a safety net passed unanimously in the Senate chamber Monday.

SB 168 would allow children who are 18 to 21 who lack resources necessary to enter adulthood to access aid from the Child, Youth and Family Services Department. CYFD would be able to leverage federal dollars to pay for the services.

Sen. Michael Padilla, D-Albuquerque, is sponsoring the bill. Padilla said while on the Senate floor that the bill aligns New Mexico with federal law and federal requirements for funding already available. A variation of the bill went before the legislature last year but failed to get through.

“We had to come forward with fixes on (last year’s) bill,” Padilla said.

Although the bill had unanimous support during the vote, Sen. William Sharer, R-Farmington, expressed a larger philosophical critique.

“I’m troubled by the concept that after 18, you’re still a child,” Sharer said during the floor debate.  “In our insurance policies now, they’re still children at 26. We’re going the wrong way. We’re taking older people and saying you’re still children instead of encouraging them to step up and be adults.”

Sharer said his comments were “not a shot” at foster families or those in foster care.

The bill allows for young people who age out at 18 to receive guidance on things such as seeking out behavioral and medical health care, applying for financial aid and college and expunging juvenile court records and participate in programs that promote employment or remove barriers to getting a job.

Sen. Sander Rue, R-Albuquerque, said that parents often let their kids know they have a safety net and can return home after 18 if they need help. But when a child goes through foster care, they are “really on their own,” when they hit 18.

“We still have a long way to go, but this is a good start,” Rue said.