Gov announces expansion of program for those who have ‘aged out’ of foster care

Yáhz Pending entered the foster care system when he was 11 years old after running away from a traumatic home life. Pending is a Dinè and Jicarilla Apache who successfully completed the extended foster care program known as Fostering Connections. “Every person I’ve met along the way has had extremely different experiences with many different […]

Gov announces expansion of program for those who have ‘aged out’ of foster care

Yáhz Pending entered the foster care system when he was 11 years old after running away from a traumatic home life.

Pending is a Dinè and Jicarilla Apache who successfully completed the extended foster care program known as Fostering Connections.

“Every person I’ve met along the way has had extremely different experiences with many different pathways into the system, different demographics, ages, ethnicities, sexuality, gender representation,” Pending said. “… the plethora of people entering this system is very large and the ways that we enter the system are very— not necessarily complicated— but the way we address these issues can be complicated due to policy and because of the wording and the different requirements.”

Yàhz Pending Tells His Story March 14, 2024. Nicole Maxwell/NM Political Report

Pending spoke during a press conference where Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham announced an executive order expanding the eligibility for Fostering Connection, an extended foster care program that allows foster youths over age 18 to stay in the system until age 21.

“This program is available to every young adult in the… foster care system in New Mexico and that’s why my signature on this executive order is so important today,” Lujan Grisham said prior to signing the executive order Thursday. 

The executive order allows people in the New Mexico Children, Youth and Families Department to remain in the system up to the age of 21, if they so choose. This is designed to allow them a means to find resources in the adult world including food, housing, jobs and behavioral health services that would have been harder for them to find as they aged out of the system.

“We’re going to make sure that our kids in our child welfare systems have the supports that they need as young adults to continue their education and their employment in any way they desire including where we have folks who may not qualify because it’s a pretty narrow set of qualifications,” Lujan Grisham said.

The state established Fostering Connections to prevent foster children from becoming homeless after aging out of the foster care system.

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Lujan Grisham signed the executive order with the hope of the legislature codifying it during the 2025 legislative session.

“By lifting… requirements for Fostering Connections we can have more youth access these resources and be able to grow on that path,” Pending said.

One of the champions for expanding Fostering Connections eligibility is Senate Majority Whip Michael Padilla, who was in the foster care system as a child and lived in seven counties before aging out of the system.

He and his sisters lived in the last orphanage in New Mexico before moving around as part of the foster care system.

Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham, center, SEnate Majority Whip Micael Padilla, right, Domestic Policy ADvisor to President Joe Biden Neera Tanden, to the governors left, and Children, Youth and Families Secretary Teresa Casados, far left, at a press conference in the Governor's Office March 14, 2024. Nicole Maxwell/NM Political Report
Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham, center, Senate Majority Whip Michael Padilla, right, Domestic Policy Advisor to President Joe Biden Neera Tanden, to the governors left, and Children, Youth and Families Secretary Teresa Casados, far left, at a press conference in the Governor’s Office March 14, 2024. Nicole Maxwell/NM Political Report

Padilla said that when he was taken to a new home, he would not unpack his things because he expected to move to another foster home before long.

“It was a very painful experience but it made me the person I am today… And I’m going to tell you right now, yes, you guys are on your way to very wonderful, great things,” Padilla said to attendees who were in the foster system. “I’m your lobbyist, by the way. I’m your guy up here.”

Padilla said that he, Lujan Grisham and CYFD Secretary Teresa Casados were there to advocate for those in the foster care system.

“Opening up this program and giving (foster children) opportunity to really transition into independence have been life-changing things in New Mexico since 2019,” Casados said. 

The first Fostering Connections class included 300 youths. These foster youths were able to get housing and education opportunities and “just support to be able to call your caseworker or call somebody from Fostering Connection,” Casados said.

CYFD begins working with foster children beginning between the ages of 14 to 16 to help them figure out a plan on transitioning from the foster care system to the adult world.

Fostering Connections has its own caseworker who provides support for participants, Casados said.

“So it’s not the same as just regular foster care as a separate program, where they are still in contact with you on a continuous basis with you know, all of those areas: education, housing, transportation needs that you might have, but they are available to you anytime that you need them,” Casados said. 

The executive order is expected to make 15-20 more children eligible for Fostering Connections that otherwise would not be able to use the program.

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