Young Adults Formerly in Foster Care: Challenges and Solutions

Solutions and Highlights

Researchers, advocates, practitioners, and others have worked to help combat the challenges faced by young people as they age out of foster care. It is important that all systems and individuals working with young adults have an understanding of federal and state-level programs as well as other resources that can support youth emancipating from child welfare and help them to become successful adults.

Federal Legislation

Legislation at the federal level has aimed to help young adults who have aged out of the foster care system successfully transition to adulthood and independence. For example, the Foster Care Independence Act of 1999 (P.L. 106-169) established the John H. Chafee Foster Care Independence Program, which aims to identify children who remain in foster care until age 18. The program works to ease the transition to adulthood by providing services such as assistance in achieving a high school diploma, vocational training, job placement, a postsecondary education, physical and mental health assistance, substance abuse interventions, housing assistance, and other appropriate services that youth need to become self-sufficient adults.

Additionally, the Promoting Safe and Stable Families Amendments to the Act in 2001 (P.L. 107-133) established state authorization of the Education and Training Voucher Program (Chafee ETV or ETV Program). The ETV Program, operated by each state through vouchers, assists by providing financial assistance for education and vocational training for foster care youth who enroll in and attend higher education or training schools. This program allows youth to receive assistance up until the age of 23 years, as long as they are enrolled in postsecondary education or a training program and make satisfactory progress towards completion.

The Fostering Connections to Success and Increasing Adoptions Act of 2008 (P.L. 110-351)  extends federal support for transition programs to youth until the age of 21. This legislation assists all youth involved in child welfare in finding permanent homes by increasing opportunities for adoption and relative placement and extending the availability of foster care for up to three years after the age of 18 if youth have not achieved permanency. This act also offers, for the first time, federal support for American Indian and Alaskan Indian tribal youth.1 With the enactment of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act of 2010 (P.L. 111-192), beginning in 2014, health care coverage will be available until age 26 to foster care youth who are in care when they turn 18 years old.

A new presidential initiative, the Permanency Innovations Initiative (PII), formerly known as the Initiative to Reduce Long-Term Foster Care, aims to improve outcomes for subgroups of children who are at the highest risk of not finding permanent homes. Over the next five years, the Children’s Bureau (part of the Administration for Children and Families at the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services) will invest $100 million in individual projects, technical assistance, and site-specific and cross-site evaluations to test innovative approaches and develop knowledge about what works to improve outcomes for these high-risk children and youth.

Projects will test new and innovative approaches to reducing long-term foster care placements for children, therefore increasing the likelihood of permanency. Grantees include the Arizona Department of Economic Security, the California Department of Social Services, the Illinois Department of Children and Family Services, the Los Angeles Gay and Lesbian Community Services Center, the University of Kansas Center for Research, Inc., and the Washoe County, Nevada, Department of Social Services.2

Youth as Their Own Advocates

Youth exiting the foster care system can become advocates on their own behalf. Knowing what resources are available and how to access them helps young people become knowledgeable about the assistance available to them. A 2001 report from the Youth Advocacy Center offers practical approaches to support the development of self-advocacy skills that address the specific needs of transition age foster care youth. These include how adults can support foster care youths' development as self-advocates by teaching them the skills to apply their own resources to advance their goals in the areas of education, employment, and adult life.3

For More Information

Child Welfare Information Gateway
This site connects child welfare and related professionals to comprehensive information and resources to help protect children and strengthen families. The site features the latest on topics from prevention to permanency, including child abuse and neglect, foster care, and adoption. 

Administration for Children and Families
The Administration for Children and Families website provides information on a wide range of information on programs, services, and policies on topics that include both child welfare and runaway and homeless youth.

Children’s Bureau
The Children's Bureau, within the Administration for Children and Families, seeks to provide for the safety, permanency, and well-being of children through leadership, support for necessary services, and productive partnerships with states, Tribes, and communities.

National Resource Center for Youth Services (NRCYS)
NRCYS (formerly the National Resource Center for Youth Development/NRCYD) helps to build the capacity of states and Tribes to provide high quality services to their youth in out–of-home placements, former foster youth, and other youth in at-risk situations through a focus on youth development, cultural competence, collaboration, and permanent connections.

1Casey Family Services, 2009
2 HHS, 2011a
3 Youth Advocacy Center, 2001