The “Age Out” Crisis: Supporting Foster Youth Beyond the Age of Majority

By: Olivia Seksinsky, staff editor

Every year, 23,000 youth age out of the foster care system, often unprepared for independence.[1] The consequences of aging out of foster care include high rates of homelessness, unemployment, lack of educational achievement, and involvement in criminal activity. Twenty-five percent of foster youth who age out will experience homelessness within their first year of aging out, and fifty percent will be homeless within the first four years.[2] Additionally, under sixty percent graduate from high school and only about three percent will earn a college degree.[3] Fifty percent will be unemployed by the age of twenty-one,[4] and twenty-five percent will be involved with the criminal justice system within two years.[5] These negative outcomes highlight the need for reform in transition services.

At the federal level, the Fostering Connections to Success and Increasing Adoptions Act requires states to help foster youth develop transition plans ninety days before reaching the age of majority.[6] But this personalized transition plan does not actually mandate that the foster youth receive services. Despite these efforts to assist with transition, foster youth are still not receiving services to propel them into self-sufficiency.[7] Virginia provides “independent living services” to foster youth between the age of eighteen and twenty-one while they are transitioning from foster care to self-sufficiency,[8] including “counseling, education, housing, [and] employment.”[9] On paper, Virginia provides exceptional transition services, yet Virginia still ranks 48th out of 50 states for the rate at which youth age out of the foster care system.[10]

Twenty-one is an inappropriate age to discontinue services because it gives foster youth only three years to become self-sufficient, which is not even enough time to earn a college degree. Foster youth encounter harsher circumstances than their counterparts in the general population when they reach the age of majority and need additional support to reach self-sufficiency. Services, specifically housing services, should be provided to foster youth until the age of twenty-six. Foster youth already receive certain supports until the age of twenty-six, including Medicaid coverage[11] and Education and Training Vouchers through the federal Chafee Program.[12] A trifecta of health care, education, and adequate housing will ensure that former foster youth avoid the many negative outcomes associated with aging out of the foster care system. Providing foster youth with assistance securing stable housing, in addition to existing benefits, until twenty-six will ensure a successful transition to adulthood.

[1] Facts, FosterOn, (last visited Nov. 13, 2019).

[2] Jill Bloch, Youth Aging Out of Foster Care Need a Runway, Not a Cliff, Youth Today (Mar. 5, 2019)

[3] Facts, FosterOn, (last visited Nov. 13, 2019).

[4] Id.

[5] What is the Foster Care-to-Prison Pipeline?, Juvenile Law Center (May 26, 2019)

[6] Fostering Connections to Success and Increasing Adoptions Act, Pub. L. No. 110-351, 122 Stat. 3959 (2008).

[7] Jill Bloch, Youth Aging Out of Foster Care Need a Runway, Not a Cliff, Youth Today (Mar. 5, 2019) (“…[O]nly 22 percent of eligible youth are provided access to an employment or vocational program, only 28 percent receive post-secondary support and less than 40 percent get budgeting or financial management training . . . while they are still being taken care of by their state.”).

[8] Va. Code Ann. § 63.2-905.1 (West through 2019 Reg. Sess.).

[9] Va. Code Ann. § 16.1-228 (West through 2019 Reg. Sess.).

[10] Children Exiting Foster Care By Exit Reason in Virginia, Kids Count Data Center, (last visited Nov. 13, 2019).

[11] Substance Use-Disorder Prevention That Promotes Opioid Recovery and Treatment for Patients and Communities Act, 115 Pub. L. No. 271, 132 Stat. 3894 (2018).

[12] Adrienne L. Fernandes-Alcantara, Cong. Research Serv., IF11070, John H. Chafee Foster Care Program for Successful Transition to Adulthood (2019) (“The Chafee statute includes . . . funding authority for the ETV program. States may use ETV funding to provide a voucher—worth up to $5,000 each year or the cost of attendance (whichever is less)—for a Chafee-eligible youth to attend an institution of higher education…”).