According to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS, 2010), there are approximately 500,000 children in foster care. These youth live in foster homes (with non-relatives or relatives), group homes, emergency shelters, or residential treatment facilities. The child welfare system strives for permanency for all children placed in its care. Permanency does not just mean that youth are adopted or receive guardianship by a family; it also refers to fostering lifelong connections between youth and adults. Although this is the goal, there are youth who do not achieve this by the time they emancipate from or “age out” of foster care.
Youth who have aged out of foster care no longer receive services provided through the child welfare system because they have reached the state’s legal age of adulthood. This occurs when the juvenile or family court terminates its jurisdiction over the youth in care; this age ranges from 18 to 25 years, with most states defining adulthood as beginning at age 18.
Nearly 30,000 youth aged out of foster care in Fiscal Year 2009,1 which represents nine percent of the young people involved in the foster care system that year. This transition can be challenging for youth, especially youth who have grown up in the child welfare system. They are expected to find housing, get a job, research and enroll in post-secondary or vocational educational opportunities, take care of their basic needs, and function independently as an adult. Some youth face these tasks alone without much, if any, support from caring adults who have a genuine interest in their success.
1 HHS, 2010