While an 18th birthday traditionally marks the onset of the age of majority, for most young people, transitioning from adolescence to adulthood is a gradual process, guided by support from parents and peers. However, for young people who grow up in foster care and for whom the Connecticut Department of Children and Families is responsible, the transition to adulthood can be sudden and painful. Many of these young people don’t have long-term, stable relationships with parents or mentors who can help them learn how to take on adult responsibilities. Instead, the State of Connecticut is their legal guardian. When these children turn 18 and the State’s legal responsibility for them ends, many struggle with their sudden independence and loss of support.
A growing body of national research suggests that these children who “age out” of the foster care system face a myriad of problems. By their mid-twenties, these children are less likely to have a high school diploma, more likely to be unemployed, more likely to become homeless, and less likely to have healthcare. Young women in this population are more likely to have experienced an unplanned pregnancy.
Until 2008, federal financial support to states caring for children in foster care ended at age 18. If states wanted to support this population into their late teens and early twenties, states were on the hook for the whole bill to help these young adults obtain housing, find a job, or pursue postsecondary education. However, in 2008, in recognition of the challenges that young people who age out of foster care face, Congress and President Bush signed into law the Fostering Connections to Success and Increasing Adoptions Act (Fostering Connections). Among other things, this law granted states the option of expanding their foster care systems with federal financial support to youth until their twenty-first birthdays.
In the wake of Fostering Connections, states around the country have begun to expand their foster care systems in an attempt to serve older youth, during this transition period to early adulthood, in an age appropriate way. Connecticut has traditionally been a leader in this area, offering some youth job training, independent living programs, and tuition assistance for post-secondary education. Now, with the passage of Fostering Connections, Connecticut has an opportunity to join a national movement and expand its foster care to youth in DCF care until their twenty-first birthdays, in order to better support them in their transition to adulthood.
In light of this opportunity, on December 6th, Connecticut Voices for Children, the Center for Children’s Advocacy, and the Jim Casey Youth Opportunities Initiative are joining together to host a forum on “Success Beyond 18: A Conference Exploring Opportunities and Services for Older Youth in Connecticut's Department of Children and Families.”
Success Beyond 18 will feature:
- Youth from Connecticut’s Department of Children and Families;
- Experienced social workers and providers;
- Leaders and advocates from other states who have worked to expand their foster care systems to older youth;
- Mark Courtney, the leading researcher studying the life outcomes of children who “age out” of state custody; and
- Legislators, policymakers, state agency commissioners, and judges from Connecticut who all play a role in supporting our state’s young people in foster care.
Our conference will provide a forum for advocates, policy makers, and youth to come together and explore what Connecticut can do to help its most vulnerable young people transition smoothly and successfully to adulthood. The event will be held from 9:00 am to 3:00 pm, in the Old Judiciary Room of the Capitol in Harford. Breakfast will be served at 8:30, and lunch will also be provided. If you are interested in attending, please RSVP to firstname.lastname@example.org. If you have questions, please contact Kenny Feder, at email@example.com.