What available supports and resources are in place for youth transitioning from foster care?
There are more than 400,000 children and youth in our nation's foster care system, and each year over 20,000 age out. As youth get ready to transition to adult life, they may face significant challenges in accessing the resources they need to become self-sufficient. Federal law requires that child welfare agencies assist youth in developing personalized transition plans that address specific topics such as education, housing, employment, finances, physical and mental health, health insurance, mentoring, and close relationships with supportive adults. A transition plan should start early and be broken into short-term, age-appropriate, and manageable goals in alignment with a youth's individual needs, hopes, and strengths.
States offer an array of services and resources designed to assist youth in foster care as they work toward self-sufficiency. The federally funded resources below focus on major service areas in support of emancipating youth and include links to relevant websites.
Educational and Training Vouchers (ETVs) are grants, funded by the federal government and administered by the states, awarded to eligible current and former foster youth. These grants are designed to provide financial assistance of up to $5,000 per year for up to five years for college, career school, or training. ETV Coordinators are responsible for assisting youth in foster care in obtaining funding for postsecondary training and/or education. Independent Living programs are also federally funded programs designed to assist eligible youth in making successful transitions from foster care to independent living. Independent Living Coordinators in each state are responsible for assisting youth in foster care with accessing services geared toward achieving self-sufficiency prior to exiting foster care. For detailed eligibility information in each state in both areas, youth may contact the State Independent Living Coordinator and Education and Training Voucher Coordinator as listed on the Child Welfare Information Gateway website, a service of the Children's Bureau.
Federal law provides housing assistance to foster youth making the transition to independence. In addition, youth may be eligible for transitional housing programs offered by the state. Assistance may come in one of the following forms: a subsidized unit in a building owned and managed by the housing program, monthly rental assistance in the form of a voucher, or a stipend for living expenses (U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development). Recognizing the need to also provide services to homeless and runaway youth, the Teen Project offers a number youth can text to find a shelter near them or access the ShelterListings.org for a complete list of shelters in their area.
Under the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (ACA), most youth who have aged out of foster care remain eligible for health care for a number of years and are guaranteed health insurance coverage under the Medicaid program until they turn age 26. Healthy Foster Care America, an initiative of the American Academy of Pediatrics, provides an overview of health-care options. To learn about state-specific policies, it is best to contact the State Medicaid Office. Youth facing a crisis or struggling with emotional issues may text the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) Crisis Text Line: 741741 or call 1.800.950.NAMI (6264) to connect with a trained crisis counselor. In addition, the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration operates a National Helpline, 1.800.662.HELP (4357), a free, confidential, 24/7, 365-day-a-year information service and treatment referral (in English and Spanish). Job training and employment assistance, among many others, are key elements of a successful transition to adult life. The following websites provides relevant resources:
- The iFoster portal features educational, employment, health, recreational, and free and deeply discounted products, services and opportunities for young people aging out of care need to achieve their full potential.
- The Get My Future website, sponsored by the U.S. Department of Labor, Employment and Training Administration, delivers integrated, easy-to-understand workforce information that helps job seekers, students, and workers in search for employment.
- The Youth.gov website, designed for youth, highlights internships, job opportunities, youth-specific programs, tools, and guides.
- Having a mentor in a child/youth's life contributes greatly to a child's well-being and positive outcomes. Child Welfare Information Gateway provides state by state information on mentoring programs through the National Foster Care and Adoption Directory's Foster Youth Services and Supports.
- The Foster Care Transition Toolkit from the U.S. Departments of Education, Health and Human Services, Housing and Urban Development, Transportation, and Labor, provides specific information to help transitioning youth and young adults tackle social, emotional, educational and financial skills.
Child Welfare Information Gateway features a list of specific resources for emancipating youth:
- Organizations Supporting Youth Involved With Child Welfare
- State Youth Advocacy/Advisory Boards and Foster Care Alumni Associations
Additional information about state-specific foster youth services and supports may be found by searching the Gateway's National Foster Care and Adoption Directory.
2-1-1 is a free confidential information and referral service for quick connection to health and human services programs and benefits in each state.
Represent magazine provides useful information to youth in foster care and offers child welfare professionals insight into teens' concerns. Represent offers youth information on aging out, addiction, child abuse, LGBTQ (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and questioning) issues, mental health, and other topics.