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Extend foster care to age 21

States should tap new federal funds to help youths 'aging out' at 18

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Most parents would not throw their kids out on the street at age 18. Yet that is what happens to thousands of American foster children when they "age out" of most state systems. They're on their own, and often end up homeless, pregnant, or behind bars.

Last year, Congress and President Bush realized what many parents do: Just because young people – especially those raised in foster homes – reach a certain age, that doesn't necessarily mean they're ready to fly solo.

The Fostering Connections Act of 2008 provides $3 billion to states that extend such assistance as housing, vocational and college help, and counseling to foster youth who want support up until they turn 21. Now states need to put that law to use.

To qualify, "emancipated" foster kids must be enrolled in school or job training, or be working a minimum number of hours, or be unable to do any of those things because of a medical condition. They also have to want to participate in the program, which is voluntary.

California may well take advantage of the new federal law. Bipartisan support is building for legislation to tap the new matching federal funds. That lawmakers are considering this now is noteworthy, because the recession might convince some that the state can't afford this, even with federal help.

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