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Home > Practice Areas > Family Foster Care > Critical Issues


Programs and Resources for Youth Aging Out of Foster Care

Young people transitioning out of the foster care system are significantly affected by the instability that accompanies long periods of out-of-home placement during childhood and adolescence. The experiences of these youth place them at a higher risk for unemployment, poor educational outcomes, health issues, early parenthood, long-term dependency on public assistance, increased rates of incarceration, and homelessness.

Approximately 20,000-25,000 young people age out of the foster care system each year, many without family or economic support (Allen, M. & Nixon, R., 2000). According to the 2000 Census, nearly 4 million people ages of 25-34 live with their parents due to economic realities--jobs are scarce, and housing is expensive.

Unfortunately, foster youth do not always have the option of turning to their families for support. Alone, these young people are confronting the harsh reality of the gap between the wages they earn and the cost of housing (White, R., 2003). As a result, youth aging out of the foster care system are becoming homeless at disconcerting rates. Anywhere from 12% to 36% of young people transitioning out of the system experience homelessness (Cook, 1991; Courtney & Pilivian, 1998; Reilly, 2003). As many as 3 in 10 of the nation's homeless adults have a history in foster care (Roman & Wolfe, 1995). Young people aging out of public systems are confronted with critical housing needs that, left unaddressed, have the potential to cause irreparable harm.

In an effort to assist youth in their transitions to adulthood, the Foster Care Independence Act of 1999 established the John Chafee Foster Care Independence Program (Chafee Program), allowing states more funding and flexibility to help young people transition to adulthood. States received increased funding and were permitted to extend Medicaid eligibility to former foster children up to age 21.

Additionally, the Chafee program allows states to use up to 30% of their federal funds to provide room and board services to youth 18-21 years of age. This includes young people who move into independent-living programs, age out, or lose touch with the child welfare agency and then return for assistance before reaching 21 (National Foster Care Awareness Project, 2000).

It's critical that young people are served by programs that will eliminate these hardships. Following is a list of programs that help young people age out of foster care with housing, general transition supports, youth engagement, education, and employment and career development.

This list is not exhaustive; it represents a handful of programs that provide supports to youth leaving foster care.

Programs that Provide Housing Support

  • Colorado Department of Human Services, Family Unification Program (FUP)

    In 2001, Colorado received 100 FUP (time-limited Section 8 vouchers) vouchers for youth aging out of the foster system, specifically youth ages 18-21 who left foster care at age 16 or older. Colorado's Department of Human Services partnered with Supportive Housing and Homeless Programs to implement FUP. To meet the aftercare services requirement, Chafee funding is used to contract with Family Tree, Volunteers of America, and Urban Peak--nonprofits that provide 18-month aftercare services to young people in this program.

    Colorado has also developed a unique partnership with AmeriCorps for youth in transition. AmeriCorps members located at FUP agencies support the development of local partnerships to assist youth ages 16-21 in successfully transitioning to adulthood. Members provide comprehensive mentoring services and help youth obtain employment and educational opportunities.

    Contact Valerie Jenkins, Independent-Living Coordinator, Colorado Department of Human Services, 303/866-4539,

  • Connecticut Department of Children and Families, Housing Continuum

    Connecticut's Department of Children and Families provides adolescents in foster care a broad continuum of housing options. Youth move from highly structured, supervised living arrangements to a transitional living program where support is provided while structure and restrictions are decreased.

    Part of the department's housing continuum includes a Community Housing Assistance Program, which provides youth with a subsidy to cover living expenses such as rent, food, utilities, telephone, transportation, and clothing. Youth are required to complete the department's lifeskills program, be employed and enrolled in an educational or vocational program, and contribute a portion of their income toward expenses and a savings account.

    The average length of stay in this program is two years. Connecticut allows youth to remain in foster care up to age 23 if enrolled in post-secondary education.

    Contact Bill Pinto, Independent-Living Coordinator, Connecticut Department of Children and Families, 860/550-6471,

  • Illinois Department of Children and Families, Youth Housing Assistance Program

    Illinois's Youth Housing Assistance Program targets youth at risk of becoming homeless who have aged out or are preparing to exit from the foster care system.

    Youth receive the following services:

    • Housing advocacy services include assisting youth in obtaining and maintaining stable housing, providing consumer education and budget counseling, linking youth to community-based resources, and follow-up services for a minimum of three months after youth secure housing. Youth ages of 17-20 are eligible.

    • Cash assistance services are available to help newly emancipated foster youth or former foster youth before their 21st birthdays when in crisis. Cash assistance may be used for housing and utility deposits, emergency rental assistance, temporary rental subsidies, and necessary furniture or appliances. Youth must be ages 18-21.

    Sixteen housing advocates throughout the state hep youth locate, secure, and maintain affordable housing. Illinois uses 30% of its Chafee funding for room and board services for youth ages of 18-21.

    Contact Ted Ernst, Youth Housing Assistance Coordinator, Illinois Department of Children and Family Services, 312/814-5571,

  • Lighthouse Youth Services

    Lighthouse is committed to continuously educating public systems about the importance of giving youth opportunities to live on their own and the need for affordable housing at discharge. Lighthouse Youth Services, Cincinnati, Ohio, prevents youth in child welfare from becoming homeless and prevents young adults in the adult shelter system from remaining homeless through Independent Living and Transitional Living Programs.

    In 1981, Lighthouse developed a semisupervised scattered-site apartment model based on the philosophy that young people learn best by doing and that youth should have opportunities to live on their own and develop self-sufficiency skills before discharge from care. The agency has served more than 1,000 youth in its model and averages around 80 youth a day living in their own apartments.

    The Independent Living Program targets foster youth and juvenile offenders ages 16-19. The Transitional Living Program targets homeless youth ages 18-25.

    Contact Mark Kroner, Director of Self Sufficiency Services, Lighthouse Youth Services, 513/487-7130,

  • New York City, Section 8 Priority Code

    The Administration for Children's Services (ACS) and the Office of Housing Policy and Development (HPAD), in cooperation with the New York City Housing Authority, has a Section 8 Priority Code for young people aging out of the foster care system. This program provides Section 8 vouchers or public housing units to qualified current and former ACS Independent Living clients. As of December 2002, more than 1,700 youth had utilized this program.

    ACS and HPAD, in conjunction with other private not-for-profit housing developers, continue to support the development of supportive housing for young people aging out of the system. Currently, at least 25 ACS Independent Living clients reside in a permanent supportive housing program by using their Section 8 vouchers, accessed through the Independent Living Priority Code Program. In February 2003, five units of permanent supportive housing were made available to former Independent Living clients with mental health needs.

    Contact Nancy Martinez, Director, Office of Strategic Planning & Policy Development, New York State Office of Children and Family Services, 518/473-1776,

  • New Jersey Community Housing Demonstration Program, Shared Living Residence Rental Housing Program

    The New Jersey Community Housing Demonstration Program (NJCHDP) is a partnership between the Department of Human Services and the New Jersey Mortgage Finance Agency (NJMFA). The NJCHDP Shared Living Residence Rental Housing Program provides financing to nonprofits, for-profit developers, and municipalities for the acquisition of land and buildings, new construction, or the rehabilitation or conversion of buildings as transitional or permanent rental units for persons with special needs.

    The entire community residence or a portion of the units (as determined by the appropriate division of the New Jersey Department of Human Services) can be set aside for these individuals. The program assists persons with special needs to live independently within the communities of their choice by expanding the supply of affordable and quality housing. Eligible clients include persons with specials needs over age 18 and adolescents who are referred in writing by the New Jersey Department of Human Services or other DHS-approved sponsors.

    Contact Bruce Blumenthal, New Jersey Mortgage Finance Agency, 609/278-7449,

  • The HOME Investment Partnership

    This program has a variety of uses, including funds for acquisition, mortgage financing, down payment assistance, rehabilitation, and rental assistance. The program is very flexible. HOME is rarely used for rental assistance--the federal government could encourage the use of home funds for both rental assistance for this population or for property acquisition and rehabilitation to provide supportive independent-living programs for young people leaving the foster care system. Florida is currently investigating using this money for young people aging out of care.

    Contact Scott Marcelais, Alternative Financing Director,, 850/487-3278, x 101.

  • CWLA Chafee Foster Care Independence Program Independent Living Questionnaire--Summary of Findings

    This survey originated with a collaborative project between CWLA, the National Foster Care Coalition, the National Network for Youth, and the National Alliance to End Homelessness. These partners have focused on the issue of housing for young people exiting the system and are working to improve housing outcomes for youth aging out of foster care. A major component of this effort involved identifying and describing promising efforts to address the housing needs of young people aging out of the system.

    As a first step, CWLA conducted interviews with state independent-living coordinators to complete the Chafee Foster Care Independence Program Independent Living Questionnaire. Phone surveys were conducted December 2003 through April 2004 to gain insight into each state's political subdivisions, discharge policies, use of funding sources, and housing options offered to young people aging out of the foster care system. Thirty-eight state IL coordinators (including the District of Columbia) participated in this project.

    Topics addressed in survey included Recommitment Policies; Use of Chafee Funding for IL Services for Foster Youth Discharged from Juvenile Correction Facilities; Use of Family Unification Program or Priority Section 8; Housing Options/Services Offered Upon Discharge; Knowledge of State Initiatives to End Homelessness; and Knowledge of Research, Evaluations, or Reports Relevant to Youth Aging Out of Care or Youth Homelessness.

    Contact Charlene Ingram, 856/566-9454,

    Click here for the full report.

Programs that Provide Educational Support

  • Education and Training Vouchers Program

    Education and Training Voucher (ETV) funds pay for the cost of attending institutions of higher learning. The vouchers cannot exceed $5,000 per year or the actual incurred cost of attendance at the institution. Cost of attendance includes tuition, room and board, and other costs associated with participating in the educational or vocational training program. The ETV Program is federally funded through the Promoting Safe and Stable Families Amendment of 2001, which expanded the John H. Chafee Independence Program to include these funds for educational/vocational assistance. Most vouchers are administered through the state's Independent Living/Chafee program. Some states have contracted with the Orphan Foundation of America to administer their ETV programs.

    Contact Dottie Ansell, National Resource Center for Youth Development, University of Oklahoma, College of Continuing Education, 4502 East 41st Street, Building 4W, Tulsa OK 74135-2512; 918/660-3700;

  • Guardian Scholars Program

    The innovative Guardian Scholars Program admits several students each semester to California State University. Each scholar receives full tuition and funding for textbooks, supplies, and annual fees. Additionally, the program offers assistance in completing college entrance and financial aid forms; an orientation to university life; year round, on-campus housing and on-campus student employment; one-on-one counseling, academic advising, peer mentoring, and faculty mentoring; a drop-in study center; assistance with off-campus employment in the young person's career field; and post-graduation career planning.

    Contact California State University, Fullerton, Guardian Scholars Program, PO Box 6828 C-120, Fullerton CA 92834-6828; 714/278-4900;

  • The Orphan Foundation of America (OFA)

    OFA helps parentless teens as they transition from foster care to young adulthood, with particular emphasis on helping these young men and women attend college and vocational school. OFA focuses on scholarships, ETVs, and mentoring.

    Contact Eileen McCaffrey, Executive Director, Orphan Foundation of America, 571/203-0270,

Programs that Provide General Transition Support

  • First Place Fund for Youth

    First Place has implemented two programs: the Supported Housing Program (SHP) and the Emancipation Training Center (ETC) to help youth who are transitioning out of foster care.

    SHP provides emancipated foster youth with access to safe, affordable housing where they have the opportunity to develop and practice lifeskills to achieve long-term self-sufficiency. SHP participants live in two-bedroom apartments in the East Bay area of San Francisco and receive a range of services and support, including financial assistance to pay housing start-up costs, monthly rental subsidies, weekly in-home case management, weekly lifeskills training, economic literacy training, transportation assistance, monthly food vouchers, community-building peer events, and health advocacy. SHP provides safe, affordable housing to 60 youth and 15 children annually.

    ETC prepares youth for emancipation and supports them after discharge from foster care. Through the ETC, 500 youth access education, housing, and employment resources annually. Services include therapeutic case management, emancipation planning, housing search assistance, emergency food vouchers, emergency utility assistance, computers, recreational activities, and educational resources.

    Contact Amy Lemley, Executive Director, First Place Fund for Youth, 510/272-0955, .

  • Jim Casey Youth Opportunities Initiative

    The Jim Casey Youth Opportunities Initiative is forming a number of community partnerships around the country. Working closely with the initiative, these communities are implementing three key strategies: Opportunity Passports, Youth Leadership Boards and Community Partnership Boards.

    The Opportunity Passport organizes resources to create financial, educational, vocational, health care, entrepreneurial, and recreational opportunities for youth who are leaving or have recently left foster care. The goal is to help young people leaving foster care become financially literate; gain experience with the banking system; amass assets for education, housing, health care, and a few other specified expenses; and gain streamlined entry to educational, training, and vocational opportunities.

    Youth Leadership Boards and Community Partnership Boards serve as vehicles for local leadership, information gathering, identification of priorities, and implementation of strategies, such as the Opportunity Passport, to positively affect youth exiting foster care. The initiative is partnering with 12 communities nationwide; in three of these communities, the initiative is partnering with other foundations as well. Requests to partner with the initiative are by invitation only.

    Contact Gary Stangler, Executive Director, 314/863-7000, ext 226,

  • Larkin Street Youth Services (LSYS)

    LSYS responds to the unique needs of homeless and runaway youth by providing a comprehensive continuum of services to encourage permanent exodus from the streets. LSYS serves young people ages of 12-23 with 17 programs operating out of eight locations in San Francisco. The programs are designed to address immediate needs and create long term opportunities for stable housing.

    Programs and Housing Services

    LSYS provides four distinct types of services to guide homeless and runaway youth to establishment, including point-of-entry, housing, HIV specialty, and educational and employment services. LSYS has an array of housing services to stabilize young people according to their various circumstances.

    • The Diamond Youth Shelter provides emergency overnight shelter for young people ages 12-17.

    • The LOFT (Larkin Opportunities for Transition) is a licensed transitional-living facility designed to meet the unique needs of underage homeless and runaway youth.

    • The Ellis Street Apartments supply permanent housing, coupled with an array of support services, including six units specifically reserved for youth diagnosed with HIV/AIDS.

    • LEASE is a supportive residential program for youth who have emancipated from San Francisco's foster care system. The program uses scattered-site apartments, and participants are linked to a range of supportive services, including employment, education, and lifeskills training services.


    Larkin Street Youth Services serves more than 3,000 youth and young adults ages 12-23. Approximately 80% of the young people who have completed Larkin Street's counseling programs have left street life permanently. More than 85% of graduates from Avenues to Independence, a unique transitional-living program for young adults ages 18-23, have secured and retained permanent housing and career-track employment. Of the 84 young people served by the Aftercare Program, which helps young adults ages 18-23 living with HIV/AIDS achieve self-sufficiency, 92% successfully stabilized their lives off the street.

    Contact Sherilyn Adams, Chief of Programs, Larkin Street Youth Services, 415/673-0911, ext. 251,

  • North Carolina's Division of Social Services' LINKS Program

    North Carolina's diverse counties, ranging from extremely rural and remote to highly urbanized, led to the creation of the LINKS program. LINKS accommodates the individual needs of young people aging out of the system, regardless of their geographic location. LINKS allows maximum flexibility in eligibility for services and access to additional funds to address youths' individual needs. To serve youth most efficiently, North Carolina has set aside funding that can be accessed directly to benefit eligible youth to meet their individual needs.

    Caseworkers evaluate youths' strengths and resources, explore other resources, and to use these funds to supplement existing resources as needed. The LINKS Special Funds Program is a resource for youth who are willing participate in planning and implementing solutions to problems.

    Youth may be eligible for four funds:

    The Trust Fund can be used for nonhousing costs that might be barriers to a youth's transition to adulthood. Examples include auto repair, insurance, computers, and furniture.

    Transitional Housing Funds. Up to $1,500 per year is available to help with room and board expenses. These funds might also be used to repair homes owned or being purchased by youth. Youth who receive these funds must also retain Transitional Services to ensure all needs are addressed.

    Extremely High Risk Funds. Up to $1,500 per year is available to any youth determined to be at high risk. These funds must be spent on services, activities, or purchases that can reduce defined risks. Each county determines risk.

    Scholarship/Conference Funds can be used toward conference attendance involving foster youth, or as educational incentives to encourage youth to remain in school or purchase school materials.

    Contact Joan McAllister, IL Coordinator, North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services, 919/733-2537,

  • Orangewood Children's Foundation, Rising Tide Communities

    In a unique effort proving to be a model for nationwide replication, Orangewood Children's Foundation has partnered with concerned business leaders to implement the innovative Rising Tide Communities, a holistic program that provides a complete range of independent-living services. Motivated young adults can participate in an 18-24 month program that provides subsidized living accommodations, job placement, education opportunities, and a team of helpful volunteers and counselors to help them as they transition to life on their own.

    Orangewood Children's Foundation uses two residential apartment complexes for this program, Flanders Pointe in the city of Tustin, and Orange Tree in Garden Grove, both in the Los Angeles area. A number of apartments are set aside from the general public units for use by the youth. An onsite residential counselor provides structured guidance, advice, and counseling sessions on a variety of topics and plays a critical role in crisis intervention. Youth pay rent on a sliding scale, according to their financial ability. By the end of the program, the youth move forward to life on their own with confidence.

    Rising Tide is an 18-month transitional housing program for emancipated foster youth between ages 18-21. The program provides motivated young people with affordable apartment housing and support services to help them transition to independence successfully.

    Contact Gene Howard, Executive Director, 714/619-0200,

Programs that Support Youth Engagement

  • Foster Care Alumni of America (FCAA)

    Foster Care Alumni of America (FCAA) is a membership association - a community of alumni, allies, and organizations that join together in order to serve as a source of support and information, and a network of people with a shared culture and experience. FCAA works to transform foster care practice and policy by working with it's allies to change the stigmas associated with foster care, to identify and address challenges in the foster care system, and to identify the best things about foster care and make sure those things happen more often. FCAA provides opportunities for it's members to participate in the national community through it's events, chapters, leadership institute, affinity groups, advocacy efforts, and a community art project.

    Contact (703) 299-6767,,

  • Foster Club

    Foster Club is an online community providing youth a safe place to obtain facts about foster care, read inspirational stories, and find support from their peers. Foster Club produces a website,, designed specifically for older youth in foster care, which inspires young people to become involved in their case plans, informs them about their rights in foster care, and prepares them for independence after they age out of the system. In addition to providing online communities, Foster Club coordinates conferences for teens in care, runs the Foster Club All Stars youth leadership program, develops youth-friendly publications, and infuses youth voices into the child welfare system.

    Contact Celeste Bodner, Executive Director, 503/717-1552,,

Programs that Support Employment/Career Development

  • UPS School-to-Career Partnerships

    The United Parcel Service (UPS) School-to-Career Partnership for youth is a community-based initiative engaging disadvantaged young adults in a work and learning experience at UPS, Marriott, Bank of America, and other employers to expand their opportunities for career and academic success. Recent efforts have been to recruit youth transitioning from the foster care system. The UPS Partnership is a collaborative effort involving the facilitator and funders, employers, referral agencies, and transportation providers.

    Through UPS, colleges and nonprofit agencies collaborate to create programs tailored to the unique educational and employment needs of each community. Some programs work with four-year colleges, while others work with community colleges and technical assistance and trade schools.

    The long-term goal of the UPS Partnership is to establish a best-practices workforce development system that will be expanded in the current service area and replicated with committed employers in other communities nationwide. Progress toward this goal has already begun. The Maryland Partnership serves as the model for UPS School-to-Career Partnerships in Hartford, Connecticut; New York, New York; Oakland, California; Portland, Maine; Providence, Rhode Island; San Antonio, Texas; and San Diego, California.

    Contact Mark Giuffre, 502/329-3060,

  • The Achieving Independence Center

    The Achieving Independence (AI) Center is a one-stop self-sufficiency center that helps young people achieve their goals. With nontraditional hours, flexible scheduling, and in-house job training, the state-of-the-art AI Center provides support and real-life tools for youth who want to invest in their future. A project of the Philadelphia Department of Human Services and the Philadelphia Workforce Development Corporation, the AI Center uses the programs and services of many Philadelphia-based groups dedicated to providing quality programs for youth in the city: education, hands-on job training, employment, technology, housing and lifeskills. Each youth works with AI Center coaches to create a custom service plan that helps them achieve their goals.

    Contact Evelyn Busby, 701 Market Street, Mellon Independence Center, C-18, Philadelphia PA 19106; 215/574-9194.

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