With celebrations, graduation parties, and preparing for college in the fall, many young adults completing high school are itching with anticipation to leave “the nest.” These young adults may feel a newly found freedom and take for granted their intricately woven support system that helps them along the way. For young adults in foster care who are graduating from high school, this transition often looks much different.
The transition to adulthood is certainly exciting for youth from the foster care system, but it also comes with unique challenges. Many of these challenges stem from the lack of a continued support system, causing uncertainty.
“Who can I trust?”
“Who can I call if I need help?”
“What if I miss a payment on a bill?”
“Is this relationship healthy?”
“What services do I qualify for?”
These questions are further validated by the staggering statistics for young adults who age out of foster care. According to Housing the Homeless: North Dakota’s 10 Year Plan to End Long-Term Homelessness, 40% of youth aging out of North Dakota’s foster care system will experience homelessness by age 21. One out of every three of these young adults experiencing homelessness will be incarcerated.
Programs for Young Adults in Foster Care
So, what options do these young adults have and how can we support them? Young adults turning 18 years old can leave foster care. If a youth chooses this path, ongoing support is still available to them and they are not completely alone.
Simply by aging out of foster care, young adults are eligible for the John H. Chafee Foster Care Program for Successful Transition to Adulthood, commonly known as the Chafee Program. This program’s mission is to ensure that youth involved in the foster care system receive services and support to enable them to successfully transition to live independently. The Chafee Program is a voluntary, participant-driven program where the young adult chooses the level of services and support from the Chafee Transition Coordinator. Ideally, these young adults will engage in the Chafee Program prior to aging out, as referrals for current foster care youth can be made as early as age 14.
A young adult close to aging out of foster care can also choose to remain in care. For some individuals, the best choice upon turning 18 is to sign themselves back into foster care, an option uniquely available by state. For example, North Dakota has the ND 18+ Extended Foster Care Program. This program has two avenues – a young adult can remain connected to a foster home or they can qualify for a Supervised Independent Living (SIL) program.
Through the Supervised Independent Living (SIL) Program, they can choose to live in a furnished apartment or in their own living arrangement, such as a college dorm, Job Corps, or shared housing. A supervised independent living setting can aid a young adult in creating steppingstones for a successful transition to independence. Through the SIL Program, young adults will continue to receive supports from a custodial foster care agency, a SIL Coordinator, and continue the supports and services already in place – one of which is the Chafee Program.
Stories of Foster Care Transition
As youth in foster care begin to approach their transition to independence, the foster care team works with the youth to develop a plan and educate them on the programs available. The foster care team, which may include a Chafee Transition Coordinator as well as a SIL Coordinator, will help the youth to identify their independent living goals and begin to create a path forward. Each individual path is dynamically unique; there is not one clear answer to what a successful transition to adulthood looks like. The stories below highlight what success may look like and how it can vary for each individual.
Hannah began identifying her goals and aspirations at age 16 with the help of her foster care team. Hannah knew she wanted independence and to leave her foster home when she turned 18 years old. With the help of the ND 18+ Extended Foster Care Program, Hannah was able to remain in foster care while taking steps towards independence through the Nexus-PATH Supervised Independent Living Program. Hannah transitioned into a fully furnished apartment on her 18th birthday. With her housing needs met, she could focus her energy on securing employment, learning money management, and building her credit.
Noah started to think about his future at about 16. He knew he would not graduate high school before turning 18 and aging out of foster care. As Noah worked on an independent living plan with his Chafee Transition Coordinator, he realized that graduating high school was important for him, and continued support from his foster home would help him accomplish this goal. On his 18th birthday, Noah stayed committed to his goal and decided to stay in foster care through the ND 18+ Program. Noah successfully completed high school. He continues to live with his foster family and is currently pursuing an associate’s degree thanks to funding assistance through the Chafee Program. Noah is also working part-time to save money to purchase a car.
Melissa was in foster care up until her 18th birthday. Her current foster home was in a rural town, but she wanted to live in a bigger city. Because of this, staying in her current foster care setting did not seem like her best option. As Melissa approached her 18th birthday, her team worked hard to establish a secure transition for her – which in her case was to Job Corps. While at Job Corps, Melissa was able to experience independence and began to fully benefit from the Chafee Program. She began working closely with her Chafee Coordinator who helped her outline independent living goals. Melissa knew she wanted to do two things, move closer to family and pursue higher education. After successfully completing programming at Job Corps, she moved out of state and closer to family. She remained connected both to her former foster family and her current Chafee Transition Coordinator. Today, Melissa is a mom, she is working full-time, and is pursuing a bachelor’s degree.
These stories highlight the diversity of independent living services and how these programs can guide and support foster care youth and foster care alumni as they work toward overcoming the challenges that often accompany independence.
Learn more about Nexus-PATH independent living programs and how you can support our efforts to help foster youth transition to independence.
This blog article was contributed by Brooke Biederstedt, Supervised Independent Living Director, Nexus-PATH Family Healing.
Nexus Family Healing is a national nonprofit mental health organization that restores hope for thousands of children and families who come to us for outpatient/community mental health services, foster care and adoption, and residential treatment. For over 45 years, our network of agencies has used innovative, personalized approaches to heal trauma, break cycles of harm, and reshape futures. We believe every child is worth it — and every family matters. Learn more at nexusfamilyhealing.org.