In some states, youth in foster care are forced to leave the system at age 18. In South Carolina, youth between the ages of 18 and 21 can receive limited services on a voluntary basis. Historically, many of those who “age out” of care have struggled to provide for their own housing, medical care, employment, and other basic needs. The result has been overwhelmingly high rates of homelessness, incarceration, and teenage pregnancy among these youth.
Though all states provide assistance to make the transition from foster care to independent living easier, select states allow youth to stay in foster care past age 18. Some—including Connecticut, Illinois, New York, Ohio and Pennsylvania—have long had policies or laws providing for extension of foster care, while others have changed their policies only within the past few years.
The Fostering Connections to Success and Increasing Adoptions Act of 2008 has furthered the debate of extending foster care services to age 21. The legislation allows states to claim federal reimbursement for the costs of caring for and supervising Title IV-E eligible foster youth until their 21st birthday. It is up to the individual states to decide whether they extend foster care beyond age 18.
In light of this legislation, a study by Chapin Hall at the University of Chicago compared the benefits to foster care youth (and to society) against the costs to government of keeping youth in foster care past their 18th birthday in the Midwest. Researchers took into consideration the fact that allowing foster youth to remain in care until age 21 is associated with an increase in postsecondary education attainment and, therefore, the advantages of postsecondary education as far as income-earning potential.
Researchers estimated that the financial benefits of extending foster care outweigh the costs to government by a factor of 2 to 1. “We estimate that extending care would increase per-person lifetime earnings by an average of $72,000,” according to the study. “Moreover, our best estimate ($72,000) translates into a benefit-to-cost ratio of almost $2 in increased earnings due to higher rates of bachelor’s degree completion for every $1 spent on foster care beyond age 18.”
Though foster care services in South Carolina are limited for youth when they reach age 18, organizations like the South Carolina Heart Gallery Foundation are working to eliminate the problem altogether by finding permanent homes for children in foster care.
The South Carolina Heart Gallery Foundation supports the work of the South Carolina Heart Gallery, which is a collaborative program administered and supported by the Children’s Foster Care Review Board, Office of the Governor and the South Carolina Department of Social Services.