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Lawmakers Want to Help Foster Care Youth Get Driver’s Licenses

a car driving away
(Photo: Crixell Matthews/VPM)

Getting a driver’s license can be a landmark moment for a teenager — but that’s not the case for everyone — especially Virginia’s youth in foster care. Proposed changes to the state budget aim to change that. 

According to a 2018 study by the Virginia Commission on Youth, less than 5% of teens in foster care actually get their licenses by the time they’re 18. 

“They have to ask about five different people before they get a yes to even go take the driver's license exam,” said Allison Gilbreath, a policy analyst with the nonprofit Voices for Virginia’s Children.  “Then there's the challenge that they experience with getting the driver's hours or hours paying for car insurance.”

Sophia Booker spent nearly a decade in the foster care system. She said she didn’t get her license until her early 20s. 

“That creates barriers, youth getting licenses at a later age, because they may need transportation just to get to work, get to school and go to doctor's appointments,” Booker said. “Youth in care should have the same opportunities as youth not in care to get their licenses.”

Del. Mark Keam (D-Fairfax) and Sen. Barbara Favola (D-Arlington) are carrying budget amendments that would invest $250,000 in a program to help foster youth get their driver's licenses. It would also reimburse some foster families for increased costs that come with adding young drivers to their insurance policies. 

Keam said the additional funds would be a step toward ensuring foster youth have equal opportunities to help in their transition to adulthood. 

“By giving them the ability to have their own driver's license to be able to get insurance and then maybe one day buy a car and maybe rent a car and have access to jobs that gives them that autonomy and a sense of normalcy that we really want to create for the foster children,” Keam said. 

Whether or not these funds will be added to the state budget won’t be decided for a few weeks.