In California, if you’re in foster care at age 18, you have the option to stay in foster care until age 21. Even if you leave foster care, then change your mind, you may have the option to go back into foster care until you reach 21.
Why would someone want to stay in foster care after the age of 18? After all, some young people can’t wait to turn 18 so they can get out of the system and live independently. Well, the truth is that independence is difficult! You may start off on your own but find yourself struggling after losing a job, or some other setback. Young adults often need help and support while they get on their feet. If you left foster care after you turned 18 and you are struggling, find out whether extended foster care can help you. You may be eligible for housing, job training, free transportation vouchers, and all kinds of other things that can help you transition to independence. Extended foster care isn’t the same as regular foster care. There are ways that you can live on your own, with a roommate, or with a relative and still qualify for these benefits. So make sure you know your options before you go!
Who is eligible to re-enter extended foster care?
If you are between 18 to 21 and you were in foster care (or had an open case in the dependency court) on your 18th birthday, you qualify.
What if I was adopted or in a legal guardianship when I turned 18 years old?
If you were adopted or placed in a legal guardianship, you still may be eligible for extended foster care if your legal guardian/adoptive parent passes away or is no longer supporting you. There are two organizations with lawyers who can help you figure out if you qualify for extended foster care: the Alliance for Children’s Rights, and the Children’s Law Center.
How do I re-enter foster care?
To get started, call the Department of Child and Family Services (DCFS) 800.540.4000. If you were on probation, and had a probation officer supervising your case, call 213.351.0243. Tell them you need help re-opening your foster care case. Make sure you give them information about how they can contact you.
You will be asked to complete two important documents to re-open your case:
- A Voluntary Re-entry Agreement (VRA, SOC 163) saying that you want to come back into foster care.
- A 388(e) Petition (also called JV-466), which is a legal document asking the court to re-open your case. Once you fill out a VRA and submit it to DCFS, a social worker must help you file the 388(e) petition.
If any of this is confusing, contact the Alliance for Children’s Rights or the Children’s Law Center for help. The phone numbers are at the bottom of this page. They are there to help you and they work for you. They are independent of DCFS or any other public agency.
Once you start the re-entry process, it could be up to six weeks before you go to court to re-open your foster care case. Here is what to expect:
- You will be assigned an attorney as soon as you submit the Voluntary Re-Entry Agreement to DCFS or Probation. DCFS or Probation should give you the attorney’s contact information.
- Call your attorney and make sure they know how to reach you.
If you are not getting the help you need with housing and your other needs, make sure to let your attorney know. They work for you to help you get all of the benefits of extended foster care.