The Option to Extend Care Beyond Age 18: An Important Opportunity for States

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

Summary: An overview of the provisions of the Fostering Connections to Success Act and the roles of representatives of the courts and child welfare community in its implementation.


Like many of their counterparts in the general population, few young adults in foster care are prepared to support themselves at age 18. Approximately half of all young people between the ages of 18–24 still live with their parents, and most rely on their parents for some financial support until they are well into their twenties. But, such support is often unavailable to young adults who age out of foster care. Instead, they often report being told, on the morning of their 18th birthdays, that they must leave their foster homes because they have “aged out” of foster care.

Research demonstrates the population of 18- to 21- year-old current and former foster youth has been identified as a group in dire need of support, facing high rates of homelessness, poverty, and incarceration. However, they are also a discrete and small enough group to allow the impact of the changes to result in significant improvement. Two major studies have examined the impact of extending foster care to young adults older than 18. They found that, compared to those who age out of foster care, young adults age 18 and older who remain in care are better off, as is society.  For example, extended support can reduce incarceration and reliance on public assistance, and increase positive outcomes, like higher education completion and enhanced employability, which can create concrete fiscal benefits for states and communities. See: Midwest Evaluation of the Adult Functioning of Former Foster Youth.

Fostering Connections

Prior to Fostering Connections, a number of states provided some measure of services and supports to young adults in foster care beyond age 18 using state or local dollars or federal dollars provided to states under the Chafee Program. For example, some states provide limited housing or tuition reimbursement, independent living classes or other support. However, since October 2010, under Fostering Connections, states may elect to provide federal Title IV-E support for eligible youth and young adults in foster care and those who exit to adoption or guardianship at age 16 or older up to 19, 20, or 21 years old provided the youth/young adult is:

  • Completing high school or its equivalent
  • Enrolled in post-secondary or vocational training
  • Participating in a program to promote or remove barriers to employment
  • Employed 80 hours per month
  • Incapable of doing any of the activities described in 1 through 4 due to a medical condition, which incapability is supported by regularly updated information in the case plan of the child

For young adults in foster care, this extension should be used by states as additional time to identify a permanent family, and to provide the young adult with the services, supports, and skills needed to transition successfully to adulthood. The extension of guardianship and adoption support provide important options for young adults, allowing them to pursue the most appropriate permanency option without having to make the difficult choice between permanency and needed assistance.

Importantly, for states that take the option to extend care beyond age 18, in addition to foster home, youth may also live “a supervised setting in which the individual is living independently.” For example, supervised settings may include host homes, college dormitories, shared housing, semi-supervised apartments, supervised apartments or another housing arrangement when paired with a supervising agency or supervising worker. See: Program Instruction, ACYF-CB-PI-10-11 for more information about this important opportunity to support young adults in age-appropriate homes beyond age 18.

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

What You Can Do in Your Community

Judges should provide judicial leadership to get their state to opt in. Your leadership in the community and first-hand experience with the poor outcomes of youth who age out of care at age 18 will provide a good incentive for states to take the option to extend care. Consider these action steps:

What You Can Do in the Courtroom

If a state decides to extend foster care for young adults beyond age 18 under Fostering Connections, all of the requirements and protections of Title IV-E apply to these young adults in foster care, including court oversight. This includes ASFA requirements such as holding a permanency review hearing at least once every 12 months, and the case plan being reviewed by a court or administrative body at least once every six months.

For those states that take the option to extend care, creating a court environment that is supportive of young adults and meaningfully engages them will be critical. See: Judicial Benchcards on Youth Involvment in Court.

To see a list of sample questions for court for older youth and young adults, see: Judicial Considerations to Implementing Fostering Connections, page 19.


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