Posted: January 30th, 2019 - By: Allison Gilbreath
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 drive themselves to school, work, and activities. 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.
That was the case for former foster youth, Brittany Fuller. The day she turned age 18, she left her foster home. Brittany moved in with her boyfriend’s family. “I was a grownup, having to be driven to college and having to be driven to work by my boyfriend’s mom because I didn’t have a learner’s or a license,” she said. And though she felt like she was independent, “in a way I wasn’t because I had to depend on someone else to take me to the store.” Her sister then came to live with her, but again, no license or way to get to work because there is no public transportation in southwest Virginia.
“It put a huge strain on me, you know, dealing with college and work,” said Brittany, “in addition to being a new mom.”
The difficulty of her sister not having a license impacted her entire family. Brittany said when her sister would get off work at 1am, Brittany would have to drag her sleeping baby out of bed, often in the dead of winter, to go pick up her sister from her job. “No license made it really difficult on her as well,” said Brittany.
Brittany is not alone, nationally only 3% of youth received their driver’s licenses while in care and it is estimated that only 5% of youth in care in Virginia are getting their’s.
What the General Assembly Is Doing About It
In 2018, Virginia’s Commission on Youth conducted a study on barriers youth in foster care experience when trying to obtain a driver’s license. The Commission identified several barriers including:
Getting permission and assistance from their foster families
Paying substantial insurance increases and fees
Gaining access to a suitable driving teacher and a car to practice
Understanding and complying with the licensing process
In response, House Bill 1883 (Delegate Keam) was filed in the 2019 legislative session to prohibit insurance companies from refusing to insure people because of their status as foster parents.
In addition, Delegate Peace (R) and Senator Favola (D) submitted a budget amendment to create a funding mechanism for the Virginia Department of Social Services to reimburse foster careproviders for increases to their existing motor vehicle insurance premiums that occur because a youth in their care has been added to their insurance policy. The program may also reimburse foster care providers for additional coverage (i.e. an umbrella policy or the equivalent) that provides liability protection should a youth get into or cause a catastrophic accident. Additionally, funding would be made available to foster care youth in Virginia’s Fostering Futures Program to assist in covering the cost of obtaining motor vehicle insurance.
We hope that these measures, if passed and included in the budget, will make it a easier and also a priority for youth in foster care to obtain a driver’s license so that experiences like Brittany’s no longer happen.