by Kristen Torres, Policy Associate
Learning to drive 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 school, work, and extra-curricular activities. Studies have shown that kids with access to a car do better in school, get better jobs, have more college options, and have more successful careers.
Teens in foster care often face significant barriers to obtaining a driver’s license. Some of these barriers include difficulty securing the parental or guardian permission needed to enroll in driver’s education or to 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 opportunities that contribute to success in adulthood.
The Foster Youth Driving Act introduced by US Rep. Danny Davis (IL-7) provides prospective foster parents with training to help prepare a young person to drive. It also provides funds to assist with this process such as assistance with vehicle insurance costs, driver’s education class and testing fees, and fees related to obtaining a driver’s license. Reducing these barriers will increase the sense of normalcy for foster youth and empower them to seek opportunities of higher education and gainful employment.
Several states have also passed legislation related to reducing these barriers for foster youth. Florida’s ground breaking program Keys to Independence, which works to reduce the barriers for foster youth in gaining driving experience and getting a license, was granted permanency this year. Arizona passed a bill that allows foster youth to purchase car insurance. Most recently Kentucky and South Carolina passed similar legislation that extends authorization for who can sign off for a learner’s permit and driver’s license.
Obtaining a driver’s license can play a significant role in the life of an adolescent or young adult in foster care. SPARC, an initiative of First Focus, has launched a campaign called Going Places. The campaign is dedicated to improving state policies regarding foster youth and their access to driver’s licenses, driver’s education, practice hours, access to cars, and insurance.