What Does the Term "Aging Out" Mean?

When Kids Age Out of Foster Care

A mother and her son
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Foster care can be a godsend for displaced children. They're 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 whatever problem caused them to lose custody.

But foster children eventually reach the age of majority just as all children do, and the government has historically taken the position that it should no longer be responsible for them when this occurs.

They're adults, and they're said to have "aged out." In the absence of loving, caring parents to help them along to self-sufficiency, they become responsible for taking care of themselves. A 2016 study by Columbia Law School indicates that one out of every four aged-out young adults in New York City ends up in a homeless shelter within three years. 

"Aging Out" 

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

The age at which a child ages out can vary from state to state. It's typically 18, but some states have extended services beyond this age because so many young adults are just not ready to be thrust out into the world on their own at such a young age.

Some states allow foster parents the option of continuing to parent their foster children beyond aging out if the foster children are willing. Unfortunately, some foster kids just want to be done with the system and they voluntarily move on, leading to homelessness in many cases. 

Resources for Aged Out Teens 

Numerous resources are available to foster teens who have or who are about to age out.

The Foster Care Independence Act of 1999 provides government funds to assist youth and young adults as they transition from foster care into adulthood. The John H. Chafee Foster Care Independence Program provides financial resources up to $140 million to states to help these young adults get on their feet as they age out of foster care. States can use up to 30 percent of this money to provide room and board for aged-out foster children from ages 18 to 21. Up to $60 million can be allocated to education and training to help them become self-sufficient.   

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

The Child Welfare League of America offers several valuable resources for foster families, as well as for emancipated foster children and those who are faced with aging out of the foster care system in the near future.