“Aging out” of foster care

Adoption Lawyer

While there is legally no age that signifies the end of foster care, generally foster children age out of care when they turn 18 years old and legally become an adult. There are guidelines put in place by the federal government to assist this transition to independence, however, it doesn’t mandate exactly what the state should do. As explained by our friends at Taylor Law & Mediation PLLC, this can be a tricky and sometimes scary time in a young person’s life and it is helpful to have an adoption lawyer on your side to help you navigate this process.

The transition period

As soon as these new adults age out of the foster care system, they are no longer eligible to receive any benefits from the state including medical care, food, or housing. Due to the anxiety of losing access to these resources, plus the instability of growing up in the foster care system, and other traumatic events from their past, many recently emancipated foster children have a higher chance of substance abuse, homelessness, mental illness, and incarceration. 

The federal government developed the John H. Chafee Foster Care Independence Program to provide assistance to these aged out children and try to successfully transition them into their communities as adults.  

The states can use these government funds for a variety of things: 

  1. Access to safe and stable housing
  2. Educational scholarships (or vouchers) to vocational school or colleges. 
  3. Medicaid coverage 
  4. Provide access to stable mentors and other caring adults 
  5. Life skills training courses 

While there are federal guidelines in place, there are no mandates that require states to provide everything. As a result, assistance varies from state to state. 

Are there other options?

It’s important to determine what exactly each state provides, and then come up with a plan to look for additional options. Other nonprofits, universities, and programs can help foster children ease the transition into adulthood.

The Jim Casey Youth Opportunities Initiative works to increase opportunities for children aging out of the foster care system including providing financial support and advocacy. They also monitor programs that were developed specifically for the transition out of foster care to make sure they are working properly.

Foster Care to Success helps young adults transitioning out foster care get vouchers for colleges and universities. 

Covenant House offers emancipated foster children housing and advocates for homeless foster children. 

There are many universities across the country that have programs specifically for young adults that have aged out of the foster care system. College can be expensive in general, and some schools, such as the California State University system, provide help with tuition costs, books, and housing. They also set the young adults up with counselors who can help them with employment and career counseling as well as help with other life skills. 

Transitioning out of the foster care system can be challenging. The system does not make it easy for newly emancipated young adults to succeed. While there is some assistance available from the state, it may not cover every need. 

If you are about to exit the foster care system, reach out to a family lawyer. They can help you determine what your state will provide and help you look for other options to make sure you successfully transition out of the foster care system and into adulthood.