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How to Help Youth Aging out of Foster Care

Most young people leave foster care at 18 years old. Unfortunately, a number of foster children are never able to reunite with their families, essentially leaving them alone in the world with little support. How can we help prevent the youth from aging out of the foster care system?

September 18 2023 - 4 min read

fostering teenagers

What age do you age out of foster care?

Most young people leave foster care at 18 years old and at first glance this can seem like a welcome relief to many foster children. However, whether they are eagerly awaiting this time in their lives or not – it often means that these young adults will face more challenges than their peers. Unfortunately, a number of foster children are never able to reunite with their families, essentially leaving them alone in the world with little support.

What happens when you age out of foster care?

A care leaver might experience multiple challenges after when aging out of the foster care system in the UK. They are still a young person after all, and navigating the adult world can be tricky. Statistically, young people who leave care are more likely to face challenges such as homelessness, drug and alcohol abuse, getting in trouble with the law, mental health problems, and more. Some of the other challenges include:


A study found that care-experienced young people are less likely to attend higher education than their peers. It revealed that a lack of self-esteem and low expectations for their future were key influences to these statistics, alongside sufficient financial and emotional support from universities. Education or training is important for building lifelong skills, though.

Finding a Job 

Finding a job is important for independent living, but it’s not easy, especially for care leavers who might not have a decent support network around them, and lack the self-belief and resilience to take the knockbacks on the chin and push forward with the next interview.


Positive social connections are crucial for well-being, yet around one-fifth of care leavers have reported high levels of loneliness. Living alone in rented accommodation and feeling unsafe where they live were noted as key factors as well as high levels of anxiety in the care leaver population.

Problems with Aging out of Foster Care

A child can only be in foster care until their 18th birthday. After that, they are no longer officially ‘looked after’. Without the right planning and support, this can leave a young person vulnerable. Just because a person has turned 18, it doesn’t mean they are fully prepared for adult life and aging out of foster care. That is especially true for those who have experienced a challenging childhood.

While some young people look forward to aging out of foster care programmes at 18, others wish to stay with their foster family to help them successfully transition into adulthood and life after foster care at their own pace. This is known as post-18 care and it helps ensure care leavers have a better chance at adult life.

What Happens if you Age out of Foster Care?

With all of these challenges, as a foster parent might wonder, can they stay in foster care after 18? The answer to this question is ‘kind of’. Foster care after 18 is possible but it’s under a different arrangement. It is called ‘Staying Put’ in England and ‘Continuing Care’ in Scotland.

Staying put – called ‘continuing care’ in Scotland and available from age 16 – was formalised in the children and families act of 2014. It means that the former foster child stays in their foster home until age 21. While they are no longer a looked-after child, they still receive care and support from their foster family.

Not all care leavers choose to remain living with their former foster family, some prefer will move onto independent living, others may wish to return to their birth family. But we’ve seen just how beneficial this arrangement can be. The decision to do it relies on the young person and the foster parent’s wishes. If both parties want to do it, then they can.

Staying put is great because it provides the young adult with somewhere to live and the ongoing support and stability of their former foster family. It means they have a better chance at life. Without it, they might end up without proper care or guidance.

How to Help Youth Aging out of Foster Care

There are many ways you can continue to support a young person you’ve cared for when they’re preparing to leave care. After all, as foster carers, you want to ensure they start adulthood with the best chance possible!

Buy Practical Gifts 

Gifts can help a young person find their feet. Supplies for university, such as a laptop or textbooks, is a good idea. Or you could buy them some bits for their new home, such as kettle, toaster, and cutlery.

Help with University/Jobs 

One of the best reasons to foster is that you get to help a child become the best version of themselves. Helping your foster child with university and job applications is a great way to secure their future.

Take on Role as Mentor 

Being a mentor to a young person is a great way to help them transition from teenager to adult. Offer them guidance and advice when needed. That might mean helping them decide which university to go to. Or, it might mean helping them find a place to live once they leave your home.

Remind them your door is always open

As we’ve already discussed, loneliness is a real challenge in the care leaver population, so reminding them that you’ll always be here for them may be one of the greatest gifts you can give.

Foster siblings

What Age Can a Child Leave Foster Care?

Some young people want to leave the foster care system sooner rather than later. While most leave at 18, it is possible to age out of foster care at 16, if the young person has successfully requested for their care order to sop. However, this will need to go through a court process.

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