J. Transitional Services

1. Transition to Independence

DFPS has a duty to address unique challenges facing youth in conservatorship transitioning to independence, including efforts to improve transition planning and providing experiential life skills-training. Tex. Fam. Code § 264.121. The life skills-training must include instruction on financial literacy including, but not limited to, understanding the timeline to file taxes, protecting against identity theft, and preparing a budget. For youth 17 or older, the training must also include lessons related to insurance, civic engagement, and identification documents. Tex. Fam. Code § 264.121(a-2). For youth 14 or older, DFPS must ensure the youth has an email address through which they can receive documents before they leave foster care. Tex. Fam. Code § 264.121(a-7).

DFPS must conduct an independent living skills (ILS) assessment for all youth 16 and older in DFPS Temporary or Permanent Managing Conservatorship and must conduct an ILS assessment for all youth 14 and older in DFPS Permanent Managing Conservatorship. Tex. Fam. Code § 264.121(a-3) and (a-4). DFPS must annually update the youth's ILS assessment to determine the skills acquired by the youth during the preceding year. Tex. Fam. Code § 264.121(a-5).

DFPS also must coordinate with the Texas Higher Education Board to establish a workgroup to develop a plan to ensure that youth in foster care who complete a standardize the Preparation for Adult Living (PAL) curriculum are eligible to receive college credit for completing the PAL program. used around the state by providers. DFPS will report this plan to the legislature not later than November 1, 2022. Tex. Fam. Code § 264.121(a-6).

DFPS must also ensure that before a youth leaves foster care, each youth who is 14 years of age or older has an email address where they can receive encrypted copies of personal documents and records. Tex. Fam. Code § 264.121(a-7).

DFPS must ensure that the transition plan for each youth 16 years of age or older includes provisions to assist the youth in managing the youth's housing needs after the youth leaves foster care, including provisions that:

•   Identify the cost of housing in relation to the youth's sources of income, including any benefits or rental assistance available to the youth;

•   If the youth's housing goals include residing with family or friends, state that DFPS has addressed the following with the youth:

◦   the length of time the youth expects to stay in the housing arrangement;

◦   expectations for the youth regarding paying rent and meeting other household obligations;

◦   the youth's psychological and emotional needs, as applicable; and

◦   any potential conflicts with other household members, or any difficulties connected to the type of housing the youth is seeking, that may arise based on the youth's psychological and emotional needs;

•   Inform the youth about emergency shelters and housing resources, including supervised independent living (SIL) and housing at colleges and universities, such as dormitories;

•   Require DFPS to review a common rental application with the youth and ensure that the youth possess all of the documentation required to obtain rental housing; and

•   Identify any individuals who are able to serve as cosigners or references on the youth's application for housing. Tex. Fam. Code § 264.121(i).

2. Housing for Homeless Youth Aging out of Care

For youth who will voluntarily enter extended foster care, DFPS shall do the following:

•   Complete any necessary transitional housing paperwork for youth entering extended foster care, six months before the youth turns 18 and to review the qualifications for housing 90 days before the youth turns 18.

•   Waive background checks if a youth in extended foster care continues to live with the same substitute caregivers.

•   Notify the youth and document the communication if their placement will not allow them to live there after the youth's 18th birthday. A foster home that prohibits a youth from living there after they turn 18 shall notify the caseworker 90 days before the youth's 18th birthday and congregate care facilities must notify the caseworker six months before the youth's 18th birthday or as soon as possible if the youth is placed there within six months of their 18th birthday.

•   Assist the youth in Supervised Independent Living (SIL) programs to develop a rental history by allowing them to co-sign for the lease on their housing.

•   Develop a protocol to prevent a youth from aging out of residential treatment center and implement the protocol when the youth turns 17 years old. Tex. Fam. Code § 264.1214.

3. Provision of Copies of Certain Records

DFPS must ensure that each youth acquires a copy and a certified copy of the youth's birth certificate, a social security card or replacement social security card, as appropriate, and a personal identification certificate under Tex. Transp. Code Chapter 521, on or before the date the on which the youth turns 16 years old. Tex. Fam. Code § 264.121(e).

If, at the time a youth is discharged from foster care, the youth is at least 18 years of age or has had the disabilities of a minor removed, DFPS shall provide to the youth, not later than the 30th day before the date the child is discharged from foster care, the following information and documents unless the youth already has the information or document:

•   The youth's birth certificate;

•   The youth's immunization records;

•   The information contained in the youth's health passport;

•   A personal identification certificate under Tex. Transp. Code Chapter 521;

•   A social security card or a replacement social security card, if appropriate; and

•   A Medicaid card or other proof of the youth's enrollment in Medicaid or an insurance card from a health plan that provides health coverage to foster youth. Tex. Fam. Code § 264.121(e-1).

When providing a youth with a document required by Tex. Fam. Code § 264.121(e-1), DFPS shall provide the youth with a copy and a certified copy of the document or with the original document, as applicable. Tex. Fam. Code § 264.121(e-2).

Prior to the youth leaving care, the youth's DFPS caseworker shall:

•   Assist the youth with developing a plan for keeping the document described in Tex. Fam. Code § 264.121(e) in a safe place; and

•   Inform the youth about the documents the youth is required to receive before the date the youth is discharged from foster care. Tex. Fam. Code § 264.121(e-4).

When obtaining a copy of a birth certificate to provide to a foster youth or assisting a foster youth in obtaining a copy of a birth certificate, the department shall obtain the birth certificate from the state registrar. If the department is unable to obtain the birth certificate from the state registrar, the department may obtain the birth certificate from a local registrar or county clerk. Tex. Fam. Code § 264.121(e-3).

Attorneys and guardians ad litem, along with other advocates, are responsible for ascertaining whether youth in care have received a copy of the documents referenced in Tex. Fam. Code § 264.121(e) and (e-1). Tex. Fam. Code § 107.003(b). Courts are also required to determine whether the department has provided the youth with documents required by Tex. Fam. Code § 264.121(e), and for youth 18 years or older, or who has had the disabilities of minority removed, whether the department has provided the youth with the documents and information listed in Tex. Fam. Code § 264.121(e-1). Tex. Fam. Code § 263.306(a-1) and Tex. Fam. Code § 263.5031(a)(4)(F)(vi).

For more information about how to support youth who are transitioning from foster care, please visit the Texas RioGrande Legal Aid Texas Foster Youth Justice Project website, including A Guide for Those "Aging Out" of Foster Care in Texas.[10]

Special Issue: Judges can help ensure youth receive their identification documents by:

•   Asking youth at every hearing about their identification documents and discuss safe handling;

•   Requiring caseworkers to bring identification documents to court, review documents to determine if they are original, certified copies, and verify that the documents move with the youth when they change placements;

•   Reviewing all the youth's identification documents and verify the names listed are consistent and in the youth's legal name;

•   If the youth is a non-citizen, ordering DFPS to refer the youth to the Regional Immigration Specialist;

•   If all identification documents have not been obtained, setting follow up hearings for 30-60 days later to keep the process moving and require DFPS to provide updates at each hearing about the steps taken to obtain the documents;

•   Ordering DFPS to complete a Form 2042 - Youth or Young Adult In Foster Care Residency Verification for a Driver License or State Identification Card Fee Waiver and provide it to the youth so they can receive a fee waiver at DPS for the issuance of a driver license or ID card and establish their Texas residency, and obtain their Texas birth certificate on their own in appropriate circumstances; and

If a request for a birth certificate to foster care eligibility specialists is delayed more than 30 days, consider ordering DFPS to take Texas-born youth to the local birth certificate office with a completed Form 2042 and necessary identification documents.