Children usually "age out" of foster care when they turn 18 years old, the age of emancipation in most states. However, there's no set age that marks the end of foster care. Federal guidelines require states to assist children during their transition from foster care to independence, beginning as early as the state agencies find appropriate, and in some cases as early as age 13.
This article discusses the legal and practical challenges related to aging out of foster care, with links to various organizations tasked with helping in this transition.
Aging Out of Foster Care: The Transition
When children age out of foster care, they become ineligible to receive state assistance with housing, food, and medical care under the foster care system. The federal government recognized that this, coupled with the fact that foster children typically already suffer ill effects due to the lack of a stable home environment while growing up, was causing newly emancipated young adults to suffer higher rates of substance abuse, mental illness, teen pregnancy, homelessness, and arrests.
In response, the government created the John H. Chafee Foster Care Independence Program (CFCIP) under Title I of the Foster Care Independence Act of 1999 to provide funding for states to assist youth (up to age 21) in foster care to make a smoother, more successful transition to adulthood. States use the funds to improve the quality of transitional support available to foster youth, including the following initiatives:
- 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 assistance in obtaining a high school diploma or GED);
- Providing life skills training to help support youth with self-sufficiency and well-being;
- Improving access to stable and safe housing through independent living programs, which varies between full assistance from 18-21 years of age to states where no financial assistance is available.
Resources for Children Who Age Out of Foster Care
While the CFCIP sets federal guidelines for states to follow, it doesn't mandate precisely what states must provide to former foster youth. As a result, benefits vary widely from state to state for these young people.
To learn more about the federal guidelines and some instances that federal funding is unavailable, consult the U.S. Department of Health & Human Services Child Welfare Policy Manual. Here are some additional resources to help you determine what kind of aid you might be eligible for 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, GA, FL, 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 Independent Living Association – Non-profit organization aiding those who have aged out of the foster care system to build healthy, stable independent lives. 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.
Questions About Aging Out of Foster Care? Ask an Attorney
Getting emancipation from foster care is a major step toward greater freedom and responsibilities. However, this transition can be difficult without sound guidance and support. As you can see, many states offer transition programs to help make emancipation successful.
You can learn more about accessing these programs and can receive additional guidance by speaking with an experienced family law attorney near you.