Extended Foster Care
Each year, around 20,000 youth “age out” of foster care at age 18 — meaning they are on their own, without a permanent family and often without supportive adults in their lives.
But the average 18-year-old still needs financial, emotional, and other kinds of assistance as they enter adulthood and begin to plan for the future. It is unrealistic to expect young people at this age to be completely independent and self-reliant. Youth with families likely have financial support and often live at home. Extended foster care — allowing 18- to 21-year-olds to stay in or re-enter foster care — can close the gap between youth in foster care and their peers.
Why Do Youth Need Extended Foster Care?
Research shows that the teenage years into young adulthood are a pivotal time for healthy development, which leads to positive, long-term decision-making and skill-building. Extended foster care helps nurture this development by providing youth with stability, opportunity, and meaningful, supportive connections with adults.
Extended foster care achieves better outcomes for youth by allowing them to be better prepared through the development of relationships, skills and resources so that they can thrive as adults. When youth age out of foster care unprepared, they face challenges that can also place financial burdens on our communities: lower high school and college graduation rates, greater dependence on public benefits, and increased risk for incarceration and teen pregnancy.
Extended foster care also gives our children and youth agencies more time to connect youth with family if permanency has not been achieved– a core obligation of the child welfare system. Investing in young people at such a critical moment in their lives benefits not only youth, but also those around them: when youth thrive, communities thrive.
How To Do Extended Foster Care Well
Successful extended foster care policies are trauma-informed and reflect both the latest adolescent development research and principles of authentic youth engagement, acknowledging youths’ lived experiences and the challenges they face as young adults.
Extended foster care should also be available to youth in the juvenile justice system who face many of the same challenges — and deserve the same support — as youth in the child welfare system.
We know effective extended foster care promotes better outcomes for our youth. California and Indiana have invested in their young adults in the juvenile justice system by providing the option of extended foster care to them. Ohio recently launched a new program to offer youth extended care. As more jurisdictions prioritize this, we can learn and share best practices so that as many young people as possible benefit.
Juvenile Law Center advocates for all states to adopt the existing federal option to provide extended care to youth until age 21 and provide comprehensive aftercare supports to youth as they transition. Juvenile Law Center also provides technical assistance at the city, state and federal level to ensure best practices to support excellent extended care systems that ensure that youth are connected with family and supportive adults and have high-quality transition plans as they approach adulthood.