Aging Out of Foster Care

Foster care youth usually "age out" of the foster system when they turn 18. The age of emancipation varies by state, but generally, the age of majority when a person receives legal rights as an adult is 18.

Even though they're labeled "young adults," these young people may still be in high school. There's a good chance they haven't learned the living skills necessary to thrive as young adults.

For many of these young people, turning 18 is not a celebration but a time of risk. The safety nets of their support system, including their foster homes and foster parents or group homes, get taken from them.

States are required to assist older youth transitioning from foster care to independence. State agencies can decide at what age to begin transitioning foster youth. In some cases, this is as early as age 13. These transition plans can involve:

  • Vocational training
  • Mentoring and peer support
  • Education about support services available to adults

This article discusses the legal and practical challenges of aging out of foster care. It also provides links to various providers tasked with helping in this transition.

Transitioning Out of Foster Care

When children age out of foster care, they become ineligible to receive state assistance through the foster care system. This includes housing, food, and medical care.

However, the federal government recognized the lack of permanency that foster children experience and the negative effects of not having a stable home environment growing up.

Recently emancipated young adults experience higher rates of:

  • Substance abuse
  • Mental illness
  • Teen pregnancy
  • Homelessness
  • Arrests

In response, the government created the John H. Chafee Foster Care Independence Program. The Chafee Program provides funding for states to offer a form of extended foster care for youth. Former foster children up to age 21 (or 23 in some states) can use this program to make a smoother, more successful transition to adulthood.

States use the funds to improve transitional support available to foster youth, including:

  • Promoting stable, permanent connections to caring adults
  • Helping youth manage and meet their health care needs, often through temporary Medicaid coverage
  • Supporting economic success through education and training vouchers to postsecondary education institutions, employment programs, and job placements (includes financial assistance in obtaining a high school diploma or GED)
  • Providing life skills training to help support youth with their self-sufficiency and well-being
  • Improving access to stable and safe housing through independent living programs and providing full assistance where no financial aid is available (18-21 years old)

Resources for Youth Who Age Out of Foster Care

The Chafee Program has federal guidelines for states to follow. However, it doesn't tell states what they must provide to former foster youth. As a result, benefits vary widely from state to state for these young people.

The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services' Child Welfare Policy Manual can be helpful in understanding this process. Your assigned caseworker (social worker) can also provide assistance.

Below, you'll find additional resources on aid and referrals for youths in the child welfare system:

  • Foster Care Alumni of America: Provides housing, education, health, and mental health resources. FCAA has state chapters in AZ, CA, CO, FL, GA, ID, IL, KS, KY, LA, MA, MD, ME, MI, NC, NE, NV, OH, OK, PA, TN, TX, VA, and WA
  • Jim Casey Youth Opportunities Initiative: Provides financial support and advocacy for youth aging out of the foster care system
  • FosterClub: Online community to share stories and support foster care peers
  • National Council on Independent Living: Nonprofit organization that "advances independent living and the rights of people with disabilities." Offers seminars and mentors from all over the United States
  • Foster Care to Success: America's College Fund for Foster Youth. Aids young adults from foster care in obtaining and using the federally funded vouchers for higher education
  • Child Welfare League of America: Supports vulnerable children and families. Provides a wealth of links to resources for those aging out of foster care

Consult an Attorney With Your Questions About Emancipation and Aging Out of Foster Care

Leaving foster care and your foster family is a major step toward greater freedom and responsibilities. However, this transition can be difficult without sound guidance and supportive services. Many states offer transitional programs to help make emancipation successful.

You can learn more about accessing these programs and receive additional guidance by speaking with an experienced family law attorney near you.

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Can I Solve This on My Own or Do I Need an Attorney?

  • Fostering a child can involve many people and support services
  • An attorney can help you navigate the process and systems
  • You need legal help for any issue that could affect the foster placement

You can hire an attorney at different points in the fostering process. Many attorneys offer free consultations.

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