Children usually "age out" of foster care when they turn 18 years old, the age of emancipation in most states. However, there’s no set age that marks the end of foster care. Federal guidelines require states to assist children during their transition from foster care to independence, beginning as early as the state agencies find appropriate, and in some cases as early as age 13.
The Aging Out Transition
When children age out of foster care, they become ineligible to receive state assistance with housing, food, and medical care under the foster care system. The federal government recognized that this, coupled with the fact that foster children typically already suffer ill-effects due to the lack of a stable home environment while growing up, was causing newly emancipated young adults to suffer higher rates of substance abuse, mental illness, teen pregnancy, homelessness, and arrests.
In response, the government created the John H. Chafee Foster Care Independence Program (CFCIP) under Title I of the Foster Care Independence Act of 1999 to provide funding for states to assist youth (up to age 21) in foster care to make a smoother, more successful transition to adulthood. States use the funds to improve the quality of transitional support available to foster youth, including the following initiatives:
What is Actually Provided for Foster Children Aging Out of the Foster Care System?
While the CFCIP sets federal guidelines for states to follow, it doesn’t mandate precisely what states must provide to foster children aging out of the system. As a result, benefits vary widely from state to state. To learn more about the federal guidelines and some instances that federal funding is unavailable, consult the U.S. Department of Health & Human Services Child Welfare Policy Manual. Here are some additional resources to help you determine what kind of aid you might be eligible for:
Questions About Aging Out of Foster Care? Ask an Attorney
Getting emancipation from foster care is a major step toward greater freedom and responsibilities. However, this transition can be difficult without sound guidance and support. As you can see, many states offer transition programs to help make emancipation successful. You can learn more about accessing these programs and can receive additional guidance by speaking with an experienced family law attorney near you.