Going Places is a SPARC (State Policy and Advocacy Reform Center) effort to reduce barriers for youth in foster care to obtain driver's licenses and state IDs, nationwide.
Learning to drive in the teen years is a rite of passage to young adulthood for millions of youth. It brings new levels of independence and opportunities, enabling young people to take themselves to schools, work, and activities. However, teens in foster care often face significant barriers to obtaining a driver’s license, such as difficulty securing the typical parental or guardian permission needed to enroll in driver’s education or secure an insurance policy, as well as an inability to pay for the various fees associated with becoming a driver. Without a driver’s license, young people in foster care often miss out on age-appropriate adolescent experiences and opportunities that contribute to success in adulthood.
In recent years, policy makers have taken an active interest in removing barriers that keep young people in foster care from having normal growing up experiences. In particular, in 2014, the Congress enacted the Preventing Sex Trafficking and Strengthening Families Act (P.L. 113-183). This federal law addresses some of the well-documented barriers to “normalcy” that youth in foster care face and recognizes important insights from neuroscience and the child development field, which is that the absence of age-appropriate developmental experiences can contribute to the lack of preparedness for adulthood that too many young people in foster care currently struggle with.
The law directs state public child welfare agencies to train foster parents (and other caregivers) on the new “Reasonable and Prudent Parent Standard” which aims to strengthen the ability of foster parents to make more decisions regarding the daily activities of children in their care with respect to their social, extracurricular, and cultural activities (i.e. sports, field trips and overnight activities). In implementing the Act, some states have provided further specificity about foster parents’ decision-making authority to include authority for issues related to youth obtaining a learner’s permit, learning to drive, and obtaining a license consistent with state law. The Strengthening Families Act requires that states provide youth as they age out of care a copy of their driver’s license (or state identification card), among other important personal documentation.
Recognizing the high level of importance that a driver’s license can have in the life of an adolescent or young adult in foster care, SPARC and its state partners have launched a targeted policy campaign to encourage policymakers to take action to remove barriers and promote better access to driver’s education and driver’s licenses for young people in foster care. By doing so, they can make a measurable difference in the lives of countless young people who want to have the same opportunities as their peers to work, attend school and participate in community activities.