In most states, a student can "age out" of foster care at age 16, 17, or 18, regardless of whether or not he or she has graduated high school or is ready to transition into adult living. For those lucky enough to have a stable foster family, that might not be a problem; but for many, the loss of foster-care services can mean losing their home and facing a last-minute hurdle to completing a diploma and going on to college.
Though they are not tracked separately under federal education accountability, according to recent studies, as many as half of students in foster care perform below grade level, and foster students are more likely than others to drop out of high school by 9th grade.
Nebraska's health and human services department has been trying to identify how to bridge support for older foster students. More than 300 students have aged out of the state's foster system each year for the last five years, according to a report by the nonprofit advocacy group Nebraska Appleseed, and little more than a third of those received help from the state's transition program. The group argues that transition programs for students should ensure coordination among housing, financial, and academic supports for these students.
Nebraska is one of several states considering extending services to older foster care students through age 21, via the federal Fostering Connections Act, which provides matching funds to states to continue support of students who are completing high school or postsecondary degrees.