More than 400,000 children in the U.S. are part of the national foster care system and more than 23,000 of those individuals age out of the system each year. The foster care transition toolkit was created by the U.S. Department of Education to provide youth in foster care with the resources and assistance they need to transition to independence.
Take a look at the main tips listed in the toolkit:
- Develop this plan during the 90-day period before your 20th birthday, based on the state of Iowa’s “age out” policy. While federal law requires child welfare agencies to begin working on the plan beginning at age 14, take initiative and contact your caseworker to start planning.
- The transition plan can be personalized, but must include specific information like educational options, job supports and employment services, housing options, and health insurance.
- If you plan to move out of state, make sure it will not affect your eligibility for services and benefits.
- If you need specific accommodations, partner with your caseworker for support, or find the office responsible for disability services on your campus or workplace.
Accessing educational opportunities
- Graduate with a high school diploma or consider enrolling in a local adult education program.
- Watch out for high school diploma scams. Scams often ask for students to pay for a diploma rather than classes and testing, and often claim to be affiliated with the federal government rather than the state.
- Consider higher education options, including types of schools (public, private, non-profit, or for-profit schools), and types of programs (targeted certificate programs, two-year Associate degree programs, four-year programs).
- Look for financial aid opportunities from federal or state grants, loans, work-study programs, and more.
Finding a job and career support
- Determine whether you are interested in an internship, part-time or full-time job, or joining the military.
- Learn how to create a strong resume and cover letter, and search for any local programs that help you practice their interviewing skills.
Managing your money
- Find out how to obtain your credit score, FICO score, and credit report.
Obtaining essential documents
- Obtain an official or certified copy of your birth certificate, your social security card, a driver’s license or ID card, health insurance information, and a copy of your medical records.
Building a support network
- Ask your school, employer, or others to be an emergency point of contact for you.
- Get involved in your community, or consider finding or becoming a mentor through programs like 4-H, Big Brothers Big Sisters of America, or Boys and Girls Club of America.
- Consider the cost, size, and location of potential housing options before signing a lease. If you choose to attend a college or university, look into on-campus housing options.
- Some landlords require tenants to pass a credit check or meet pre-set income standards. Students or first-time renters can consider subletting apartments, or find a responsible adult to serve as a co-signer on a housing option.
- If you are at risk of becoming homeless and need emergency housing, look for local shelters, or find out if you are eligible for student federal housing programs.
Taking care of your physical and mental health
- Determine what health insurance options you have prior to your transition from foster care. Some mental health services can be covered under the Medicaid’s Early and Periodic Screening, Diagnostic, and treatment (EPSDT) benefit.
- If you are unable to exercise your rights, designate someone to act on your behalf to make your medical decisions.
Getting where you need to go
- Find out if your new neighborhood or school provides public transportation.
- Learn about any possible bike share or carpool programs in your area, or invest in buying a car.
This toolkit was created by the U.S. Department of Education, in partnership with the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, the U.S. Department of Transportation, the U.S. Department of Labor, and youth and practitioners involved in the child welfare system. To view the full toolkit, click here: http://www2.ed.gov/about/inits/ed/foster-care/youth-transition-toolkit.pdf