Specialized Case Management for Young Adults in Extended Federal Foster Care

Publication Date: November 27, 2019
Cover of Specialized Case Management for Young Adults in Extended Federal Foster Care

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Research Questions

  1. What are present services goals and challenges for providing case management specialized for young adults in extended foster care?
  2. What are examples of some current and emerging program and policy practices in this area?
  3. What are areas for future research and better data for building knowledge about specialized case management and what young adults in extended foster care need generally?

For many decades, child welfare agencies—with few exceptions—only served children. State responsibility for the safety and well-being of children in foster care ended at age 18 (or 19, at the state’s discretion, in the case of youth completing high school). But in the past 10 years, many states have extended foster care eligibility to age 21, and some provide supportive services through age 23.

  • In 2008, the Fostering Connections to Success and Increasing Adoptions Act amended Title IV-E of the Social Security Act by giving states the option to extend eligibility for federally funded foster care to age 21.
  • In 2018, Congress amended Title IV-E of the Social Security Act further to allow states with foster care extended to age 21 the option—through the John H. Chafee Foster Care Program for Successful Transition to Adulthood (the Chafee program)—to provide supportive services through age 23.

While traditionally child welfare case management is rooted in the experience and approach of caring for minors, caring for young adults requires a shift in approach since young adults’ developmental needs differ from children’s (Courtney et al. 2018). As states participate in extended federal foster care (EFFC), many will grapple with these shifts and how the child welfare system should shift in response.

This brief describes how some states currently provide case management specialized for young adults. In these programs, case managers work with transition-age youth (over age 18) in extended foster care to meet the youth’s specific needs. As more states come to serve young adults, we expect child welfare agencies will have common questions about approaches and may benefit from learning what other jurisdictions are doing. We present service goals and challenges, highlight current and emerging program and policy practices, and consider potential questions for future research.


The purpose of this report is to (1) highlight the types of challenges and emerging program and policy practices child welfare agencies and other providers and stakeholders may face in meeting the needs of transition-age youth in extended foster care, and (2) pose recommendations for creating a responsive child welfare system for young adults.

Key Findings and Highlights

Administrators and providers whose agencies adopted a specialized case management approach described the approach’s benefits and challenges. Several felt specialization helps child welfare agencies manage and respond to inconsistencies in practices across localities, and better support the unique housing, workforce, and transition needs of young adults.   A key benefit administrators and providers described was that specialized case managers can focus on building expertise in key areas such as available services, adolescent brain development, and authentic youth engagement. This specialization can help to best serve young adults needing more complex support, including young adults who are pregnant and parenting, or young adults with developmental disabilities or mental health needs. Additionally, with specialized approaches, jurisdictions may be better able to set standardized expectations for case managers and provide dedicated resources to address young adults’ needs.

While many named important benefits, administrators and providers also identified some challenges of specialized case management. For example, providing young adults with someone who helps them navigate the transition to adulthood often means they have a new case manager at age 18. The young adult may lose an established relationship and need to form a new connection during a transition. Some administrators and providers felt that all case managers—not just those specialized for young adults—should have a strong, broad base of knowledge and be able to connect and refer young adults, particularly those with complex needs, to the right supports. Finally, since some jurisdictions may not have enough young adults in care at one time to support a specialized case management approach, specialized case management may only be feasible for young adults in larger urban areas, leading to different (and possibly inconsistent) service delivery within the same state or county for young adults living outside more populous areas.

States and counties with EFFC can take steps to create child welfare systems that are responsive to young adults and that ensure more consistency, quality, and equity, even if the states or counties choose not to provide specialized case management. They may do this by developing strategies to handle regional differences in service provision; taking deliberate measures to coordinate the services that are offered; providing case managers and other staff with tools, training, and support through supervision and manageable caseload sizes; and engaging in research and evaluation to understand what practices work best.


Researchers from the Urban Institute and Chapin Hall at the University of Chicago identified 17 states, counties, and communities with EFFC that use some form of case management specifically targeted to young adults. We identified states by scanning the websites of the 24 states plus Washington, DC, with EFFC in fall 2017. We invited child welfare administrators from these states who were knowledgeable about their specialized case management models to participate in a convening in Washington, DC, in October 2017. Officials from the following 12 jurisdictions attended the convening and/or spoke to us by telephone about their specialized case management model: California, Connecticut, Hawaii, Illinois, Indiana, Maine, Massachusetts, Minnesota, Oregon, Texas, Washington, DC, and West Virginia.


Currently, the child welfare field has limited capacity to assess how young adults in extended foster care are faring or to track the services the young adults need and receive. Data sources like The National Youth in Transition Database (NYTD) are a starting point to understanding service receipt and outcomes (e.g., employment, educational attainment, connection to an adult, parenthood). However, child welfare agencies must improve their data systems and data-sharing capacity to better know what young adults are receiving—what works and what doesn’t—and to identify the best options for young adults in extended foster care.


McDaniel, Marla, Denali Dasgupta, and Yuju Park. 2019. “Specialized Case Management for Young Adults in Extended Federal Foster Care.” OPRE Report #2019-105. Washington, DC: Office of Planning, Research and Evaluation, Administration for Children and Families, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.

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