Entering Foster Care
It all starts with a court-order: a social worker or judge determines it is not in your best interest to remain with your biological parents, and you are removed from their home. But you’re only a kid -- you still need a place to live and someone to care for you. You enter the foster care system, a state-run program that’s supposed to be temporary, until you can move to a more permanent, safe and caring home.
When you enter foster care, the state determines your case plan, which sets a goal for where you will permanently end up. Most of the time, this goal is to reunify with your parents. Other times, the goal is adoption or other forms of placement. In the meantime, you will live with adults who serve as foster parents or caretakers.
The goal of the system is for you to end up in a safe, permanent home as soon as possible. But for various reasons, some kids remain in foster care for years. For example, in a 2015 count, six percent of foster youth had been in the system for five or more years.*
In your case, plans to find you a permanent family situation don’t work out. You end up remaining in foster care.
You’re about to turn 18 and you’re still in foster care. Now what? Depending on where you live, you might “age out." Because life can be rough for older foster youth, many states have extended the age cut-off when you lose some foster care benefits to 21.
If you live in one of the states that has opted to extend foster care past 18, that means you can still access benefits like housing, legal services, and educational supports as long as you meet some criteria, like pursuing school or work. Extended foster care benefits vary by state. In California, for example, you can receive a monthly stipend for living expenses, have continued access to your lawyer, and get priority enrollment in state universities and community colleges. As part of the Affordable Care Act, all U.S. foster youth can get healthcare through Medicaid.
Even if you live in a state that has extended foster care benefits, your time in foster care won’t last forever. In nearly all of those states, you’ll “age out” by the time you reach 21. In California, for example, that means you’ll lose your guaranteed housing placement, living stipend, and access to your court-appointed lawyer. There are programs that can help you with some of these needs, but that depends on availability and whether you have children. However, you will retain your educational benefits like priority enrollment in state colleges. And under the provisions of the Affordable Care Act, you’ll also retain access to health care until you’re 26.