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While state child welfare agencies are notoriously bad parents, for some youth they remain the best available option. This is particularly true for older youth who have no other viable choice for permanency, and who must therefore aim toward achieving independence as graduates from the foster care system. Because of the many challenges facing youth exiting foster care to independence, most states now permit youth to receive continuing foster care services and supports beyond 18, and in many cases up to 21. Frequently, however, the goal of extending time in care for older youth is impacted by the opposition of the youth themselves, many of whom are so frustrated and scarred by their time in care that all they can think about is being “freed” from the child welfare system and living on their own. This paper examines the growing number of states that permit youth who have exited foster care after 18, but are still under 21, to reenter care when they discover that they may have overestimated their readiness for independence. The paper explores the many challenges facing emerging adults as they exit foster care, and the laws and practices that have evolved in the past few years aimed at supporting “trial independence.” The paper concludes that while more research is needed about the obstacles facing youth exiting foster care to independence, re-entry laws represent an important strategy aimed at maximizing the likelihood of a successful transition for a vulnerable population of young adults.

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