Act 91 FAQs: Resumption Jurisdiction and Re-Entry

This FAQ represents the interpretation of Juvenile Law Center. We will update this FAQ as we learn new information, so please check back frequently for updates. For more information, please contact Jenny Pokempner at Juvenile Law Center at (215) 625-0551, ext. 111., or [email protected].

Can youth who age out of care really re-enter care? 

Yes. A youth is eligible to re-enter care if they are under age 21; discharged from the court's jurisdiction within 90 days of turning age 18 or any time after turning age 18; and engaged in at least one of the following activities:

  • Completing secondary education or an equivalent credential;
  • Enrolled in an institution that provides post-secondary or vocational education;
  • Participating in a program actively designed to promote or remove barriers to employment;
  • Employed for at least 80 hours per month; or  
  • If the youth has a medical or behavioral health condition that prevents them from engaging in any of the activities listed above, they remain eligible as long as their treatment provider provides documentation of the condition for inclusion in the permanency plan.

What is the legal mechanism for allowing a youth over age 18 to re-enter care? 

While many people refer to this provision of the law as “re-entry,” technically, a youth is asking the juvenile court to resume jurisdiction of the youth’s case. Once jurisdiction is resumed, the youth can get assistance from the child welfare agency. Assistance can include placement and/or an array of services in the same manner that it would if the youth had opted to remain in care past age 18.

Is a new finding of dependency required for the court to resume jurisdiction of the case?

No. This is not a new dependency case. The new law allows the juvenile court to resume jurisdiction over a youth who was previously adjudicated dependent before turning age 18. A new adjudication of dependency is not required.  When the youth meets the eligibility criteria under the law, the court resumes—or re-opens—the case of a previously dependent youth. In other words, it picks up the case where it left off as if the youth had decided to continue in care past age 18. This means that the court is not required to find new grounds for dependency or determine if the youth is currently being abused or neglected. If they meet the eligibility criteria, jurisdiction should be resumed.

Case Example: Youth was discharged from dependency jurisdiction at age 18. He is currently 19 years old and is working at least 80 hours a month. He is homeless, but the week he came to request that the court resume jurisdiction of his case, he was sleeping on the floor of his biological mother’s apartment. This youth is eligible for resumption of jurisdiction. While his mother is providing him temporary shelter, that is not relevant to his eligibility to resume jurisdiction. The child welfare agency should make attempts to engage the youth’s mother in planning and, with the youth’s input, explore permanency options with her and the youth after the court resumes jurisdiction. However, no new finding of dependency needs to be made for the youth to re-enter care. The fact that the youth is sleeping on his mother’s floor makes him no less eligible for resumption of dependency jurisdiction under Act 91.

Would a youth who discharged from the court’s jurisdiction at age 16 and who is now 19 and needs help be eligible to re-enter care under Act 91?

No. Act 91 limits resumption of jurisdiction to youth who “age out” of care; therefore not all youth who were once in the dependency system are eligible. One of the key components of eligibility for resumption of jurisdiction under Act 91 is that termination of dependency court jurisdiction must have occurred within 90 days of the youth turning age 18 or after age 18. 

However, while a youth who was discharged from dependency jurisdiction at age 16 would not be eligible for resumption of jurisdiction, he or she would still be eligible for Chafee IL aftercare services. For more information on eligibility for Independent Living Services see Youth Independent Living Services Guidelines Bulletin and Appendix, Office of Children, Youth, and Families, Bulletin 3130-11-04, July 8, 2011. 

Are youth who were under the court’s jurisdiction at age 18 or older, but placed in the home of a parent at that time eligible to ask the court to resume jurisdiction?

Yes. The law allows youth for whom court jurisdiction was closed within 90 days of turning age 18 or any time after turning age 18 to request resumption of jurisdiction if they meet the eligibility requirements. Jurisdiction, not placement, is required.  This means that some dependent youth who are placed in the home may be eligible for resumption of jurisdiction if they meet the requirements. 

Case Example:  Youth was adjudicated dependent at age 15. She was placed in foster care while family visits gradually increased, family counseling was provided and the youth’s mother was assisted in applying for rental assistance. The youth was returned home at age 17, but juvenile court jurisdiction remained open and the case was reviewed in court until the youth turned age 18, at which time court jurisdiction was terminated. Following the mother’s arrest and loss of housing, the youth requested resumption of court jurisdiction at age 19. Because this youth was attending community college and working part time, she met the activity requirement. In addition, this youth was still under age 21 and the court terminated jurisdiction of her case when she was age 18. This youth would be eligible for resumption of jurisdiction despite the fact that she was placed at home when jurisdiction was terminated.

Are youth who were dependent, but whose last placement was through the delinquency system, eligible to re-enter care under Act 91?

Yes, as long as dependency court jurisdiction was terminated within 90 days of the youth turning age 18 or after the youth turned aged 18, the youth is still under age 21, and meets the activity requirement or its exception. 

Case Example: Youth was adjudicated dependent at age 13. He was adjudicated delinquent at age 16 while in a group home placement. The juvenile court placed the youth at treatment program for delinquent youth at age 16. The youth remained in that placement under dual jurisdiction until age 18 when he signed himself out of the dependency system and his probation was terminated. Due to significant mental health problems, the youth requested to re-enter care at age 18 and half after being homeless and without his medication for several months due to loss of insurance. In addition to being enrolled in an employment program for adults with mental illness, the child welfare agency had in its possession significant documentation of the youth’s mental illness and its impact on the youth’s ability to function. Because this youth was still under age 21 and dependency court jurisdiction terminated on his 18th birthday, this youth is eligible to re-enter care.  

Can eligible youth who have their own children request to re-enter?

Yes. If the youth meets the eligibility requirements, he or she is eligible to re-enter care regardless of whether they have a child. That the youth has children is relevant to the youth’s disposition (placement and services) once he or she re-enters care, but his or her status as a parent does not impact his or her ability to request that the court resume jurisdiction or eligibility. 

If a youth who has a child re-enters care does his/her child need to found dependent?

No. The law remains that for a child to be found dependent, grounds for dependency must be proved by clear and convincing evidence. Being a young parent or a dependent child is not grounds for dependency of the youth’s child.  See In the Interest of Kyle Austin Hall, 703 A. 2d 717, 719 (Pa. Super. 1997). The cost of the placement and services for mother and child are paid for through the dependent child who is re-entering care. See 45 C.F.R. 1356.21 (j).[1] 

Can a youth who has a juvenile adjudication or a criminal conviction re-enter care?

Yes, if they are eligible. If a youth is under age 21, was previously adjudicated dependent, and had his or her dependency jurisdiction terminated by the court within the 90 days prior to turning 18, or on or after his or her 18th birthday, and meets the activity requirement, he or she is eligible. Having juvenile record or criminal conviction does not make a youth ineligible for resumption of jurisdiction.

That a youth has a juvenile adjudication or criminal conviction may be relevant to placement or disposition options, but does not have an impact on eligibility for re-entry.

Case Example: A youth had her dependency jurisdiction terminated when she was age 19. About six months after her discharge from care, she was arrested and charged with assault after getting in an altercation with a boyfriend. After being convicted of a lesser offense, she was placed on probation and required to pay court fees. At age 20, the youth requested that the court resume jurisdiction of her case. At that time, she was enrolled in a culinary arts program at the local community college, receiving counseling, and working part time for a catering company. Under Act 91 this youth is eligible to re-enter care.

Can a youth who has a driver’s license and a car re-enter care?

Yes. If the youth meets the eligibility requirements of the law they should be eligible to re-enter care. Getting a driver’s license is a rite of passage that all teens look forward to and work towards. Getting a license and owning a car have accompanying legal requirements of their own. In many areas of Pennsylvania, having a driver’s license is an essential independent living skill that allows youth to achieve educational and employment goals, especially when public transportation is not readily available. County children and youth agencies are encouraged to develop age-appropriate and common sense approaches to youth learning to drive, having driver’s licenses, and driving that promote age-appropriate responsibilities and opportunities for youth in care that mirror the opportunities provided to youth who are raised in their own families.  

What if the youth is not yet engaging in one of the required activities when he or she asks to re-enter care?

The intention of the re-entry provision is to provide a safety net for youth who aged out without a proper plan or whose plan fell through and have now come upon difficult times. The provision was intended to allow the court and child welfare system to respond to the youth and take advantage of this opportunity to re-engage the youth. The activity requirement should be interpreted broadly with the goal of promoting the development of independent living skills and the young adult’s well-being. For example, working closely with the IL program and caseworker may be the appropriate activity to reduce barriers to employment for some youth with significant barriers to self-sufficiency and stability. Individualized determinations should be made and the safety-net intent of the provision should always be kept in mind.  

Youth who inquire about re-entry and express a firm commitment to engage in one of the required activities should be assisted in identifying and taking steps to meet the activity requirement. For example, a youth who has become homeless may no longer have the identification documents needed for school enrollment or funds for transportation to seek employment. If the youth has a disability that prevents them from meeting the activity requirements, the child welfare agency should assist the youth in collecting the documentation needed to establish eligibility. As explained above, much of the youth’s treatment records will be in the children and youth case file.

Working with the youth to overcome the barriers to meeting the requirements should be done simultaneously with filing a motion to resume jurisdiction, or engaging the youth in a Voluntary Placement Agreement, to ensure that the process can respond to the situation of the youth while also taking steps toward meeting the requirements of the statute. The youth should actively meet the Juvenile Act’s definition of a child by the date of the court hearing and when the court order for resumption of jurisdiction is executed, the order should identify that the youth is fulfilling the definition of child.

Is there any time period or time limitation during which re-entry is allowed?

No. The law does not establish a limited time window, such as six months or one year, for re-entry. An eligible youth can re-enter any time before reaching age 21.  An eligible youth is one who:

  • Discharged from dependency court jurisdiction  90 days before turning 18 or any time after age 18;
  • Is engaged in at least one of the required activities or has a documented medical or behavioral health condition that prevents such activity on the date of his or her court hearing, and is under age 21. 

What about the concept of a "trial discharge"?

"Trial discharge" was a term and process described in the Independent Living Services Bulletin promulgated by DPW prior to the enactment of Act 91. It was an attempt to encourage counties to provide youth some flexibility when they discharged prematurely. In effect, it was an attempt to cover the gap in the law that Act 91 has now filled. 

While there may still be instances when it is appropriate for a youth to go on a trial discharge, with the passage of Act 91 trial discharge is no longer a necessary practice for those youth who have dependency jurisdiction terminated by the Court within 90 days prior to turning age 18 or on or after their 18th birthday.