What It Means When a Foster Child "Ages Out"

A mother and her son
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Foster care can be a godsend for displaced children. Children are often placed in foster parents' homes when the state determines that it would be unsafe for them to remain with their birth families—despite efforts to rehabilitate their parents from the problem that caused them to lose custody.

Eventually, foster children reach the age of majority just as all children do. The government has historically taken the position that it should no longer be responsible for them when they reach the age of majority. The stance is that they are adults who have "aged out." In the absence of loving and caring parents that can help them be self-sufficient, they become responsible for taking care of themselves. Unfortunately, that creates a homelessness issue. A 2016 study by Columbia Law School indicated that one out of every four aged-out young adults in New York City end up in a homeless shelter within three years.

The Definition of "Aging Out" 

The term "aging out" refers to children within a state's foster care system who are still in the system when they reach the age of majority or when they have graduated from high school. Children who have "aged out" have not found permanency with an adoptive family, become adopted, or reunified with their birth families—they have not been able to return to their biological parents. 

The age at which a child officially ages out can vary from state to state. It's typically 18-years-old, but some states have extended services beyond this age because so many young adults are just not ready to be on their own at such a young age. Some states allow foster parents to continue fostering beyond aging out if the foster children are willing. Unfortunately, some foster kids just want to be done with the system and voluntarily move on, leading to many cases of homelessness.

Resources for Aged Out Teens

Thankfully, there are many resources available to foster teens who have or who are about to age out. For example, the Foster Care Independence Act of 1999 provides government funds to assist youth and young adults as they transition from foster care into adulthood. Another plan of action, the John H. Chafee Foster Care Independence Program, provides financial resources for up to $140 million to states with the mission to help young adults get on their feet. With this program, states can use up to 30 percent of the money to provide room and board for aged-out foster children from ages 18 to 21. Additionally, up to $60 million can be allocated to education and training to help them become self-sufficient.

The following agencies and individuals also work to help children who are leaving the foster care system: 

  • Foster Care Alumni of America. This collective supports a high quality of life for those in and from foster care. Their mission is to connect, empower, and allow the community to flourish.
  • Meet Me Half-way Project. The MMHW project focuses on building better lives one house at a time. By helping foster kids help themselves, kids can get a head-start on their future.
  • Jim Casey Youth Opportunities Initiative. The Annie E. Casey Foundation supports this initiative that believes every young person leaving the foster care system should have family connections, support, and opportunities.
  • FosterClub. Support for young people in foster care is available in this network of over 500 young leaders.
  • Foster Care to Success. FC2S scholarships assist students across the country so that they can meet their educational goals.
  • National Independent Living Association . The NILA grassroots organization is dedicated to making the futures of young people better through quality services, a national network, youth advocacy, and more.
  • Child Welfare League of America. This program offers several valuable resources for foster families, emancipated foster children, and those who are faced with aging out of the foster care system in the near future.