News and Information from the National Court Appointed Special Advocate Association

Partner Perspective

Transition from Foster Care: 7 Myths

Celeste Bodner
Founder and Director

It’s no secret. You’ve seen the shocking statistics about youth who age out of the system: the low high school graduation rates, the elevated incidences of teen pregnancy and incarceration as well as the homelessness suffered by youth who have recently been dismissed from foster care.

It’s somewhat of a relief that the new federal Fostering Connections law has made major improvements to programs for older youth in care. This legislation mandates important new services. But to ensure that we meet the needs of older youth, we must face persistent myths:

Myth 1: It takes 90 days to put a transition plan in place.

The Fostering Connections Act goes a long way by requiring states, during the 90-day period immediately prior to a youth aging out of care, to “provide the child with assistance and support in developing a transition plan that is personalized at the direction of the child, includes specific options on housing, health insurance, education, local opportunities for mentors, and workforce supports and employment services.”

But three months to plan before a youth leaves foster care for good? This isn’t sufficient time to implement a transition plan, particularly considering the setbacks and challenges many foster youth have faced throughout their teen years. Perhaps we should be thinking about three years instead of three months. FosterClub is excited that this is exactly the approach National CASA has taken through its new Fostering Futures curriculum.

Myth 2: Young people leave foster care.

The truth is, the foster care system leaves the youths’ lives. Not the other way around. Once the age of emancipation is reached, support from the system generally falls away completely: shelter, food, transportation, mental health support, mentoring, a place to do laundry. Once we recognize this, we realize the imperative to install supports that will last into adulthood.

Myth 3: It’s a transition.

For many youth, leaving foster care is less about a “transition” and more about a week’s—or maybe a month’s—notice that they’ll need to pack their things. Ready or not. Perhaps more like “cliffhanging” than “transitioning.” Although some states allow youth to reenter foster care, it’s only allowed up until the age of emancipation—usually either 18 or 21. And the only way it can happen is if young people know they can come back.

These days, transitioning from the average family home can take many years. Most young adults in America lean on their parents well into their 20s and sometimes beyond. Parents may be there for their children for many years past the onset of young adulthood.

Myth 4: Independent living is what we strive for.

Some child welfare systems state “independent living” as a goal for youth leaving the foster care system.

At FosterClub, we differ. According to our young people, having committed and reliable adult supporters is the number-one indicator of success for a young person transitioning from foster care. Interdependent living is better term to describe what a young person should aim for.

Myth 5: The solution is simple—permanence.

While establishing permanence in a youth’s life has been given priority status within the child welfare field, FosterClub finds that young people who have experienced a lot of disruption during their years in care often don’t know what permanence means, let alone how important it is. For example:

It wasn’t until I became an intern for FosterClub that I began to truly understand what permanency meant. I thought that since I had “successfully” exited the foster care system I had permanency. Now I understand permanence doesn’t have to be within the constraints of reunification, adoption, placement with a family member or another permanent living arrangement. Instead, for me it signifies a lifelong connection with a supportive adult, and I know what I need to do to reach towards that.

—Janessa, Iowa

Myth 6: Independent living skills = “I’m all set.”

Many young people are understandably eager to leave the system behind. They dutifully participated in training for independent living. They’ve learned to fill out an apartment rental application, balance their checkbook and do laundry without turning everything pink. They feel ready for life on their own.

But everything can change in a second. A recent blog post by FosterClub 2010 All-Star Ashley Jackson (the author of this issue’s Alum Editorial) illustrates how the situation of a young person, by all counts “successful,” can change with no warning:

Saturday began as a typical day. I woke up, went to work…. I got off work, packed my bag, filled up my tank and hit the highway. I was expecting a normal weekend—visiting family and friends and taking a break from my hectic lifestyle. Those thoughts quickly faded when I swerved to miss a deer on the highway and experienced a motor vehicle accident. After a lengthy time and undergoing testing, the doctor informed me that I had fractured my back and would have to be sent to a specialist that night for further testing. I spent two days in the hospital, was put in a back brace and was told not to return to school or work for two weeks. In the blink of an eye my entire life changed. How was I going to manage all of this?

—Ashley, Michigan

It’s great to have a good transition plan—even better to have independent living skills. But that’s not enough. Fortunately, Ashley had taken the time to develop contacts and supports for life after foster care. They were her safety net in this emergency.

Myth 7: It’s up to us to protect them.

This is actually partly true. Sure, as supportive adults in a young person’s life, we need to protect them from harm. But teens often complain about missing out on normal milestones because activities are deemed too risky for foster youth: getting a driver’s license, staying overnight with a friend, taking an out-of-state vacation with a friend’s family—or even dating.

If we are asking young people in care to make responsible life decisions when they leave the system, we need to provide occasions that allow them to practice. Strategic scenarios should be offered that allow youth to take risks. Yes, there will be mistakes and failures. But what better way to learn than from experience? What better time to practice decision making than while foster care provides a safety net?

Let’s move past the seven myths.

As Ashley’s and Janessa’s quotes illustrate, the greatest gift we can offer young people who will be leaving care is the support of committed adults. A CASA volunteer is in an excellent position to help youth arrange and strengthen these relationships. Young leaders from FosterClub overwhelmingly recite that the difference between success and becoming one of the statistics is the care and love of one or more supportive adults.



The author, center, with members of the FosterClub All-Stars. Visit to find a wealth of resources for youth in care.

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Anonymous @ 6/29/2011 9:33:29 AM 
Certainly. In fact, children are reunited with parents once safety is assured in the plurality of cases (38% in 2010). See --Connection Editor
Anonymous @ 6/28/2011 8:03:14 PM 
when a child is taken form his mother can casa help put the kids back into the family again
Anonymous @ 6/5/2011 11:55:47 AM 
fantastic... being in the system from the age of 5-18 it was tough for me, but it was many years ago and i will say what they have in place at this time is a great start we did not have this in my time, and as all of you know.. it was tough being branded a "foster child" in a time where you were a second class citizen. i pray for all of the ignorant adults that said mean things to all of us.. and all the bullies out there as always life goes on and i am looking fwd to becoming a casa with a history. god blesss all of you.. and keep up the good work.. ciao
Anonymous @ 5/19/2011 8:53:25 AM 
Society has extended adolescence well into the late 20s for most young people but we expect foster kids to be able to 'man up', step out into life with no lifelines, and make it on their own. It can happen, but more often doesn't. A life of high school, TV, phones, and no money skill honing doesn't prepare you for life on the 'outside' whether you're a foster kid or not. Every kid NEEDS budgeting, life skills, understanding money, responsibility, scheduling, all thru jr.& sr. high school to prepare for college, trade school, job hunting, whatever it is. More, better and longer prep time for foster kids is absolutely necessary. IN CASA
Anonymous @ 4/11/2011 2:13:55 AM 
I admit CASA could be a good program but I have seen the how it works. The issues I have are as follows.
The Court Appointed Special Advocate can be anyone. These people should be trained in Child Psychology and both parents should be allowed to choose the Advocate.
The Court Appointed Special Advocate should have someone whom they have to answer to when they over step their boundaries. A example is a Advocate telling a mother of a 5 year old that she does not have to allow the father communication with the child even though the Father was awarded those rights in Family Court.
A Advocate should have a list of duties to conduct and report to the Court and Non-Custodial Parent. Examples: The Childs hospital visits, Days of school missed, How the Child is doing in school, Any felonies or misdemeanor charges against the Custodial Parent, Change of address or phone number.
Advocates are not required to see or speak to the child. Some Advocates only phone the Custodial Parent on
Anonymous @ 3/31/2011 3:57:34 PM 
As someone who is well into my middle age I can still remember turning 18 at the beginning of my senior year of high school. I was a ward of the state but lived with relatives. When they lost their funding I was made very aware of the precarious nature of my living situation. Upon high school graduation I packed my bags shortly thereafter and moved out on my own. Not a great plan, but I did have 'independent living skills" however young people in their late teens are just as vulnerable as much younger kids. I was no exception and while I didn't make horrible choices I made some choices based on my reality and looking back having had better or any support would have been beneficial to someone like me. I completely understand the need for long transitioning from the system out into the "real world." Bottom line, all children are valuable, however for me, I feel as if I had been thrown to the wind for the vultures to tear apart. I sincerely hope that the system changes and for the bett
Anonymous @ 3/18/2011 7:25:53 AM 
Great article! You read my mind (and probably hundreds of others!). Realistic interpretation of waht really happens. Love the "young people leave foster care." Yeah, right, and with three months to plan an exit into the black hole without a safety net?! Three years is an excellent plan to prepare them and give them time to adjust. Having supportive adults in their corner is going to make a huge difference, so this time also gives kids the opportunity to think about who those adults will be and form the bonds needed. I believe it will set them up for success!!! Thank you:) I am going to pass this on...its a wonderful piece.

Rita Brennan Freay
Anonymous @ 3/17/2011 1:30:06 PM 
Ditto the comments from Anonymous@2/23/2011. The only comment I will add is that from now on this article will be required reading for all CAJAs in Madison County.
Anonymous @ 2/23/2011 7:51:22 AM 
I love it! Great article and great advice. This truly represents what the "transition" should look like. Nothing beats having adults in your corner, who are there for the ups and downs. Thanks for writing this; it should be required reading for social workers, foster parents AND youth.
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