Commentary: Toomey needs to protect youths aging out of foster care

In December, Sen. Pat Toomey issued a statement on his website in which he championed adoptive parents.

IN THE MIDST of the change in the presidential administration and the health-care debate, there has been a lot of anxiety about the uncertainty of what is to come. For one particular group, that uncertainty is heaped onto a host of other challenges: youths aging out of the foster-care system.

Youths enter foster care because of abuse and neglect. We - the state and society - have assumed responsibility for their care and owe them a good and healthy start in their adult lives. Since 2014, young adults who have aged out of foster care have been able to access health care through the Medicaid-to-26 provision of the Affordable Care Act. These young people, who are often left behind and invisible to many, also have been forgotten in the debate on health-care policy. Forgetting these young adults will harm them and will be costly to society. Youths who age out of foster care face precarious situations. Many have health issues; some have disabilities, and they contend with these realities while also lacking the support of a family. This provision has provided foster youths parity with young people who have the benefit of remaining on their parents' health insurance plan until age 26. Foster youths deeply deserve the same access to care.

In December, Sen. Pat Toomey issued a statement on his website in which he championed adoptive parents. His statement included the following:

"Every child needs and deserves a safe, stable and loving home life. My wife, Kris, and I have been blessed with three wonderful, healthy children. We cherish them and place our obligations to them above all other responsibilities. But for hundreds of thousands of children, circumstances have robbed them of the love and support of a family."

Toomey went on to celebrate the importance of adoptive families and permanence - a position we strongly share. However, for some youth, it isn't that simple. Between 700 and 800 youths age out of foster each year in Pennsylvania without being placed with a family. Nationwide, that number is nearly 25,000 per year. These young people face the same challenges as they enter adulthood that our own children do, and they don't have the safety net that those with a family have. They've been raised by the state, and the state cannot afford to fail them at this critical time.

It is critical to us, and to the youth we serve, to hear Toomey commit to these young people. A promise was made to these young people that their needs and challenges would be considered in regards to public policy. It's now time to keep that promise. We look forward to hearing the senator's plan to protect the Medicaid-to-26 provision and for him to stand with foster youth.

Susan Vivian Mangold is executive director of the Juvenile Law Center.

Jennifer Pokempner is child welfare policy director of the center.