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90-Day Transition Plan: The Final Protection for Youth Exiting Care

American Bar Association Center on Children and the Law's Bar-Youth Empowerment Project

Summary: The importance of developing and implementing a 90-day transition plan for youth leaving care, and the role of the courts in implementing it.

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One way the Fostering Connections Act makes significant strides toward improving outcomes for older youth in care is by requiring a new “transition plan.” This requirement should improve practice by creating the impetus to plan early so that acceptable transition plans can be developed and by increasing accountability by developing standards for acceptable discharge plans.

This new plan does not replace the previously required independent living plan (ILP) “for youth ages 16 and older” under ASFA at 42 U.S.C. § 675 (1)(D) or the case review documentation for youth age 16 and above of “the services needed to assist the child to make the transition from foster care to independent living” at 42 U.S.C. § 675(5). Instead, this new plan complements these already required plans.

Fostering Connections

As of October 7, 2008, the child welfare agency must develop a “transition plan” within the 90-day period before a youth is discharged from care. The plan must be developed under the direction of the child with the child’s caseworker or other child welfare agency staff, along with other “representatives of the child” (including the child’s attorney, guardian ad litem, court appointed special advocate, mentor, teacher, foster parent, relative or any other individuals the child requests). The plan must be personalized and directed by the child. It must include specific options for housing, health insurance, education, local opportunities for mentors and continuing support services, and workforce supports and employment. If the youth has special health, behavioral health or intellectual needs, the child welfare agency should assist the youth in engaging needed adult-service systems to ensure that appropriate linkages are made in terms of provision of services and benefits.

Although the new 90-day transition plan is a key service for youth to ensure they have all necessary services and supports before transitioning from care, this plan serves primarily as a final discharge plan. The child welfare agency should be developing detailed, individualized ILPs at the direction of the youth beginning when the youth is at least age 16, if not before. Only when these two plans are viewed as steps in the process towards transitioning to adulthood will either fulfill its true purpose. The child welfare agency must actively engage and empower youth throughout the transition planning process, and include all individuals who may provide insight or support.

To learn more about the older youth provisions of Fostering Connections, see: Frequently Asked Questions: Older Youth Provisions of Fostering Connections.

Role of the Court

Because this transition plan is required of the child welfare agency as part of its case review requirements, the development and presentation of this plan must be integrated into permanency review hearings; like case plans, this should occur at least every six months. Court oversight of the development and review of transition plans is essential to ensure accountability and, more importantly, prevent youth who truly need services from falling through the cracks. This provision helps keep youth from exiting the child welfare system to shelters and other unstable living situations where their needs are not met.

The court should ensure “transition planning” elements, such as referral to a homeless shelter and the welfare office, are never acceptable. Courts and advocates must ensure the plans are thorough and individualized and that youth are not discharged from care without being able to transition successfully to adulthood. Transition plans should also provide youth with key documentation to assist them in their planning process, such as birth certificates, education records, etc. These documents are often critical to obtaining necessary services and accessing opportunities in adulthood—from purchasing a car to receiving medical attention to applying for employment. For a full list of recommended documents, please see: Sample Legislation to Extend Foster Care, Adoption, and Guardianship Assistance and Support Beyond Age 18, page 32.

Finally, the court can play a critical role ensuring the transition plans are developed at the direction of the child, and that they represent the goals and wishes of youth by requiring the youth’s presence at court. Under the Child and Family Services Improvement Act of 2006, courts must now “consult in an age appropriate manner” with youth at any permanency hearing. This includes any hearing that will address the youth’s transition from foster care to independence and the youth’s proposed permanency or transition plan. While youth presence and involvement at court is important throughout the life of the case, there is no more important hearing for a youth than the one where plans for their futures outside the system are made and the jurisdiction of the court will end.

To see an innovative and youth-developed transition plan template and process, see: FosterClub's Transition Toolkit. To access sample questions for judges around transition planning, see: Judicial Considerations in Implementing Fostering Connections, page 21 and Sample State Legislation to Extend Foster Care, Adoption, and Guardianship Support Beyond Age 18.  

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