Aging Out of the NJ Child Welfare System — What Happens Next?
At this very moment, up to 280 young people in New Jersey need a "forever" family.
But the opportunity is gone for 34 young adults who aged out of the foster care system in 2017 and became ineligible for state services. And for 55 young adults in 2016.
Youth can receive services through the Division of Child Protection and Permanency, the state's child welfare system within the New Jersey Department of Children and Families, up to age 21.
"I think when any young person ages out, it's definitely a problem," Jessica Trombetta, executive director of DCF's Office of Adolescent Services, told the Townsquare News Network. "We don't want them to age out."
So starting at age 14, Trombetta said, a child's transition plan is launched, and then evaluated each year to monitor their goals and see which services can still be utilized to help supply the child with permanent support.
"One of the key parts to helping a young person successfully transition to adulthood is to do that transition work early and often, and not wait until they're 20-and-a-half to start that process," she said.
If there appears to be no solid fix as an individual nears age 21, their current foster family will likely be approached by a staffer, to find out if they're willing to continue acting as a support for the youth without going through the formal adoption process.
Older individuals are not completely ignored come their 21st birthday. Emergency funds, Trombetta said, are available for certain expenses — a security deposit or furniture for an individual's first apartment, for example.
Trombetta said the agency also offers gap housing for young people who receive scholarships but need a place to live when school is out, and through a partnership with the Department of Community Affairs, housing vouchers are available to support young people in their quest to find a stable home.
"Oftentimes during the process we're helping a young person identify connections, resources in the community, really trying to address their needs, so that when the state welfare system closes, they don't fall off that cliff," Trombetta said.
According to the website for Denville-based Roots & Wings, an organization devoted to young adults who age out of New Jersey's foster care system, aged-out individuals are "among the most underserved, disconnected and statistically vulnerable" segments of the community.
With no responsible adults in their life, they're eventually five times more likely to be arrested and four times more likely to receive government assistance, the nonprofit said.
At age 18, youth can also remove themselves from the system voluntarily. Approximately 150 young people take this route per year in the Garden State.