Home > Policies > Child Welfare > Help bridge the gap for foster youth transitioning out of foster care

Foster youth with severe disabilities who cannot live independently when they turn 21 transition from the care of Maryland’s Department of Human Resources (DHR) to the responsibility of its Department of Health and Mental Hygiene (DHMH). For these most vulnerable of Maryland’s youth, a gap in services during this transition can be an issue of life and death.

This legislation will fill a gap in Maryland’s statutes. It codifies a Court of Appeals decision (Dec. 21, 2015), that the juvenile court does have authority to order necessary bridge services to continue after the young person turns 21 and is no longer under the care of DHR.[1] Existing law applies only to youth with disabilities whose parental rights have been terminated. The legislation will extend those protections to all such youth in foster care who have severe developmental disabilities, while also providing more limited protections to other youth aging out of foster care.

For youth with such severe disabilities that at age 21 they transition from DHR’s care to the care of DHMH, this legislation will:

  • Allow the juvenile court to order services the young person needs
  • Those services will remain in place until an Administrative Hearing/Judicial Determination that a change in services is warranted.

For non-disabled foster youth leaving care between ages 18-21 to independence, this legislation allows the court to order necessary services for an additional six months. Those services could be:

  • Security deposit and/or first month’s rent on apartment
  • Basic furniture for first apartment
  • Assistance purchasing a car or paying for car insurance for several months
  • Monthly bus pass
  • Laptop
  • Drivers Education and/or the 60 hours driving needed to get a driver’s license
  • Assisting the youth with their own children to obtain a daycare voucher
  • Transitioning the youth’s social security representative payee from DSS to the youth. Requesting that DSS give the youth any funds paid to DSS after age 21, but before the youth begins receiving the SSI directly from SSA.

[1] See In re: Adoption/Guardianship of Dustin R., No. 24, September Term, 2015 (affirming juvenile court order of bridge services in “life or death” case of medically fragile youth).

February 3, 2016

This legislation is Senate Bill 448! We are very grateful to Senator Delores Kelley for her leadership on this bill and to all our other Senate co-sponsors: Senator Astle, Senator Benson, Senator Currie, Senator Guzzone, Senator Jennings, Senator Kagan, Senator King, Senator Klausmeier, Senator Lee, Senator Madaleno, Senator Manno, Senator McFadden, Senator Middleton, Senator Muse, Senator Nathan-Pulliam, Senator Peters, Senator Pinsky, Senator Ramirez, Senator Raskin, Senator Rosapepe, Senator Young, and Senator Zirkin. Click here to read the text of the bill.

February 8, 2016

Our legislation in the House is House Bill 683! We are very grateful to Delegate David Moon for being our lead sponsor. Thank you to all our co-sponsors: Delegate Anderson, Delegate Bromwell, Delegate Carter, Delegate Conaway, Delegate Gutierrez, Delegate Hettleman, Delegate Jalisi, Delegate Lierman, Delegate Luedtke, Delegate Morales, Delegate Sanchez, Delegate Smith, Delegate P. Young. Click here to read the text of the bill.

Tuesday, February 16th at 1 pm is our hearing date for SB448 on the Senate Judicial Proceedings Committee. Click here to read our testimony in support of SB448.

February 17, 2016

We had a great hearing in the Senate Judicial Proceedings Committee last night. A huge thank you again to Senator Kelley for her leadership on this bill and as a constant champion for foster youth. The hearing included powerful testimony by Mitch Mirviss, counsel for Baltimore City’s foster youth in the LJ  v. Malhotra class action law suit, and counsel for Dustin R. in his appellate case, Virginia Knowlton, Executive Director at the Maryland Disability Law Center, Debbie Ramelmeier, Director of Child Welfare Policy at the Citizens Review Board for Children, Amy Petkovsek, Director of Advocacy for Training and Pro Bono at the Maryland Legal Aid Bureau, Dominique Marsalek, Chair of Maryland’s Foster Care Alumni Network, Melissa Rock, Child Welfare Director at Advocates for Children and Youth, and Second Family staff members: Denise Zonitch, Marc Duncan, and Melissa Menke and the very brave foster youth from Second Family who shared their stories. Support for SB 448 also included written testimony by all of the witnesses just mentioned and Court Appointed Special Advocates, the Coalition to Protect Maryland’s Children, the Franklin Law Group, and the Homeless Persons Representation Project. Although DHMH submitted a letter of concern and DHR submitted written opposition there was no one at our bill hearing opposing the legislation. We are hopeful that JPR will issue a favorable report on SB448 so youth leaving care have the bridge services they need.

Thursday, March 3rd at 1 pm is our hearing date for HB683 in the House Judiciary Committee.

March 3, 2016

Our hearing went well in the House Judiciary Committee. We are very grateful to all of our witnesses who waited over 5 hours to testify. We were disappointed that the staff and foster youth from Second Family had to leave, without having the opportunity to testify, before the bill was called due to their extraordinary medical needs. Thank you to Delegate Moon for his leadership on this  bill and for foster youth. The hearing included powerful testimony by Mitch Mirviss, counsel for Baltimore City’s foster youth in the LJ  v. Malhotra class action law suit, and counsel for Dustin R. in his appellate case, Virginia Knowlton, Executive Director at the Maryland Disability Law Center, Joan Litte, Chief Attorney for the Child Advocacy Unit at the Maryland Legal Aid Bureau, Dominique Marsalek, Chair of Maryland’s Foster Care Alumni Network, Yolanda Sonnier, partner at the law firm Randall and Sonnier, and Melissa Rock, Child Welfare Director at Advocates for Children and Youth. Support for SB 448 also included written testimony by all of the witnesses just mentioned and Court Appointed Special Advocates, the Coalition to Protect Maryland’s Children, the Franklin Law Group, and the Homeless Persons Representation Project. We are hopeful that the Judiciary Committee will issue a favorable report on SB448 so youth leaving care have the bridge services they need.

March 10, 2016

The Senate Judicial Proceedings Committee voted unanimously to pass SB 448 with amendments. The amendments remove the additional 6 months of services for foster youth who do not have disabilities, which will eliminate DHR’s costly estimate included in the fiscal note.

March 17, 2016

SB 448 passed Third Reader on the Senate Floor unanimously! Foster youth without disabilities aren’t included in the bill to get services past age 21, but the bill will still be very valuable for those foster youth who do have disabilities.

SB 448 will be heard in the House Judiciary Committee on March 29, 2016.

April 8, 2016

With a few additional amendment, SB 448 and HB 683 both got unanimous votes in the House Judiciary Committee, and have now passed Second Reader on the House floor. Hopefully the last 2 days of the 2016 Legislative Session will be plenty of time for these critical bills to become laws. Thank you Delegate David Moon for getting the bill out of the Judiciary Committee, Senator Kelley for your unending leadership from the Senate, and all the advocates who have chipped in to make this happen!

April 12, 2016

Sine Die (the last day of the legislative session) was a roller coaster for our legislation. Slightly amended versions of the House and Senate bill passed unanimously on the House floor at noon. The Senate version needed final sign off from the full Senate because it had been amended since the full Senate passed the bill unanimously on March 17th. Unfortunately, 45 minutes before the end of the Legislative Session, the Senate did not agree to the bill as amended in the House. Everyone is committed to trying again next year. Luckily, the Dustin R. Court of Appeals opinion should still offer protections to these vulnerable foster youth with disabilities.