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July/August 2024Vol. 25, No. 6Empowering Young People in Foster Care: How Technology Supports Aging-Out Transitions

Written by Children's Bureau Division of State Systems staff

For young people, aging out of foster care is a significant step in their life journey. These young adults now find themselves on the brink of independence, sometimes without a ready support system or accessible resources to help them as they navigate the challenges of independence and adulthood. However, technology can play a vital role in supporting their transition to independence. Let's discover how technology can empower young people formerly and currently in foster care.

Continuing Education

  • Bridging the gap. When transitioning into the adult world, access to continuing education can provide youth with new skills and learning experiences. Today's technology bridges geographical gaps, which allows young people formerly and currently in foster care to pursue a higher education remotely. These flexible learning opportunities can occur through virtual classrooms, online courses, and educational apps. Scholarships and financial aid portals are also available online to provide students with essential information or answer questions.
  • Personalized learning. Frequent out-of-home placements, among other circumstances, can create challenges for young people in foster care that lead to a disrupted education or interrupted schooling. Personalized learning is one resource that can help young people catch up to their peers, fill knowledge gaps, and progress educationally at their own pace. These adaptive learning platforms can tailor academic content to an individual student's specific needs.

Gaining Employment

  • Digital job searches. Technology simplifies job hunting. Online job boards, resume builders, and professional networking platforms connect young people in foster care with potential employment opportunities. Virtual career fairs also allow young people to explore diverse fields and connect with employers.
  • New skill development. E-learning platforms offer employment skills such as vocational courses, coding boot camps, and other types of training. These platforms allow young people in foster care to gain marketable skills that may enhance their employability.
  • Job site training and courses. Some employers offer online training, courses, and other educational opportunities that young people in foster care can complete through the company's learning platforms. Some employers also pay for their employees' advanced educational degrees or certifications, which can benefit young people in foster care by expanding their skills and knowledge.

Life-Skill Resilience

  • Mental health apps. Mental health apps offer young people in foster care information on coping strategies, self-care ideas, mindfulness exercises, and assistance helplines. These apps can empower young people to play an active role in managing their own emotional well-being.
  • Videoconferencing connections. When appropriate and while protecting any legal prohibitions, videoconferencing technology can be used to help young people stay connected to their siblings and birth families, which can provide additional mental health benefits and emotional comfort to those involved.
  • Financial literacy apps. Budgeting apps and financial websites can help young people in foster care learn more about fiscal literacy and other monetary advice. This information allows young people to gain money management skills, create a budget, build credit, and plan for their financial future.

Community Support

  • Locating resources. Websites and apps can help young people in foster care find local resources to help with their day-to-day living needs, such as counseling services, housing options, and legal aid. Technology helps young people by providing a way to reach out for these services.
  • Virtual support networks. Social media communities, online forums, and support groups connect young people in foster care with peers who share similar experiences. These networks can provide emotional support and advice and promote a sense of belonging.

Empowering Advice

  • Virtual mentoring. Technology can connect young people in foster care with mentors who guide them through challenges. Whether it's career advice, life skills, or emotional support, virtual mentors can play a crucial role in the aging-out transition process.
  • Transition planning tools. Apps and websites can help young people in foster care with creating personalized transition plans. From housing arrangements to education pathways, these tools can empower young people to take charge of their future.

Child Welfare Information Systems

  • Locating personal information. When transitioning out of foster care, a young person might need access to their own medical records. Or as they search for employment, a young person might need to provide employers with personal or demographic information, such as their foster care address history, when a job requires a background check. Fortunately, today's child welfare technology can be used to help young people gain easier access to this important personal data without having to physically visit a child welfare office.
  • National Youth in Transition Database (NYTD). As per 45 CFR 1355.20, states receiving funding through the John H. Chafee Foster Care Program for Successful Transition to Adulthood are required to submit data to NYTD. NYTD data are used to learn more about the services provided to and outcomes experienced by youth transitioning out of foster care. Surveys can be used to gather some NYTD data. One way to improve efficiency in the collection of this data might be to include the survey in your state's child welfare information system, and then provide young people with the access needed to complete the survey.
  • Enhancing Comprehensive Child Welfare Information System (CCWIS) functionality. CCWIS teams should consider the unique needs of young people transitioning from foster care and identify areas where automation can improve their work, such as by sending alerts to run credit checks for young people. The Engaging Youth in Information Systems Design Toolkit contains information to consider when enhancing CCWIS functionality in areas such as providing young people with system access to their records, case planning, proof of foster care status, court participation, and transition planning.

Technology isn’t a total remedy for young people beginning their independent lives, but it can be a powerful ally. By leveraging today’s resources, these digital tools can help young people in foster care transition more successfully into adulthood. Let’s continue to innovate, advocate, and create a supportive system that empowers these resilient young individuals to live their best lives.

Additional Resources

"Aging Out of Foster Care: Reflection on Transition and Transformation," Carol Wilson Spigner, in Children's Bureau Express 22(1)

"Engaging Lived Experience to Strengthen CCWIS" webinar, Children's Bureau 

Engaging Youth in Information Systems Design Toolkit, Children's Bureau 

Foster Care Transition Toolkit, U.S. Department of Education

Supporting Young People Transitioning From Foster Care: Findings From a National Survey, Child Trends

Youth in Transition (Aging Out), The Annie E. Casey Foundation