Transitioning from childhood to adulthood is difficult enough, but it can be even more challenging for foster children who sometimes don’t have long-term stable relationships with adults who can help them learn to take on adult responsibilities.

Lawmakers and policymakers gathered at the state Capitol on Thursday to talk about ways the state can support foster children past the age of 18.

Currently, the state provides support such as tuition assistance for an estimated 500 foster youth who are pursing some form of post-secondary education. They receive that support up until the age of 23, according to the Department of Children and Families.

At the moment, the state is paying the entire cost of the program, but is working on applying for a federal waiver that would allow them to expand the definition of services offered to older foster youth. It also means Connecticut could receive federal funds for services it offers to 18-21 year olds.

Department of Children and Families Commissioner Joette Katz estimates the state could capture about $7 million in federal funds, if it changes the definition of youth from 18 to 21.

But that number is based on how much Connecticut is currently spending on this population.

“As I said in the very beginning there is no more money,” Rep. Toni Walker, who is in charge of the legislature’s spending committee, said Thursday. “But we can not stop doing our responsibility.”

She said Connecticut needs to pursue every federal dollar available. She said it’s not her place to tell a state agency what to do, but she suggested it would be beneficial to apply for federal money.

“If we don’t do this, what are the costs?” Walker said, adding that she sees this as a preventative measure to keep older foster youth in school and in the workforce.

The federal matching funds have been available to states under the Fostering Connections legislation enacted in 2009.

Katz said the department has been reluctant in the past to promote and publicize programs like this because “frankly, not everyone is really educated on the benefits and value of doing this.”

At the moment the department is “spending every discretionary dime around this population,” Katz said.

She said traditional post-secondary options such as two- and four-year schools are not always the best fit, so they’re looking for partners in the business community and vocational programs. The goal is to make sure that “everybody has a place to be a contributing member of society.”

The forum hosted by the CT Voices for Children, Center for Children’s Advocacy, and Jim Casey Youth Opportunities Initiative gave stakeholders an opportunity to talk about the benefits of extending benefits to foster youth.