Foster Care 18 to 21: A path to permanency

In 2017, North Carolina implemented an extended foster care program, Foster Care 18 to 21, for youth who exited foster care at age 18. National research shows that former foster youth are more likely to be unemployed, homeless, have no high school diploma, have a low income, and be incarcerated compared to the general population (National Youth in Transition Database, 2019). The Foster Care 18 to 21 program provides support and guidance as youth transition out of foster care and into adulthood. The program also helps to increase opportunities for youth to be successful and have their well-being needs met.

Young adults who age out of foster care face additional obstacles compared to their peers who have not experienced foster care. The National Youth in Transition Database report (2019) emphasized the importance of assisting young adults in identifying natural and system supports to aid in successful transition into adulthood. Ongoing participation in an extended foster care program was found to improve outcomes for young adults, compared to their peers who elected to exit from a foster care program.

Young adults are eligible for Foster Care 18 to 21 if the following criteria are met:

  1. Was in foster care on their 18th birthday, and
  2. Is between 18 and not yet 21 years of age, and
  3. Meets one of the following criteria:
  4. Completing secondary education or a program leading to an equivalent credential; or
  5. Enrolled in an institution that provides postsecondary or vocational education; or
  6. Participating in a program or activity designed to promote employment or remove barriers to employment; or
  7. Employed for at least 80 hours per month; or
  8. Incapable of completing the educational or employment requirements due to a medical condition or disability.

Foster Care 18 to 21 provides young adults more control over their goals and placement options. The social worker or case manager will work with the young adult to identity safe and stable living arrangements. Placements may be in licensed family foster care homes, residential facilities or semi-supervised living environments that may include their own apartment, college dorms, military housing, and other options approved by the local agency. North Carolina’s ongoing commitment to safety, permanency, and well-being for older youth and young adults is outlined in the 2020-2024 Child and Family Services Plan (CFSP), the state’s five-year strategic plan. The plan can be found at

Foster Care 18 to 21 and Permanency

As some young adults may age out of foster care, support and resources are critical to successful transitions. Resource parents play an essential role in this process. Here are some ways to help:

  • Discuss what permanency is and how it may look different to each individual. The ENGAGE model ( can help in conversations with youth and young adults about permanency:

E –     explain what permanency means in general and what it can mean for the youth or young adult

N –    not a one-time conversation, but an ongoing discussion

G –    give youth opportunities to explain their feelings about adoption and other permanency opportunities

A –    ask youth who they feel connected to

G –    give youth choices so they can practice self-determination

E –     explain their options and help them understand the pros and cons

  • Encourage eligible youth and young adults to participate in the NC LINKS program. NC LINKS is North Carolina’s Chafee program which provides youth with independent living skill building. This opportunity is for those age 13 up to their 21st birthday who have been in the legal custody of a local department of social services. In NC LINKS youth not only increase skills but also form important connections to peers, positive adults, and community resources.

Each county has staff who work with the youth for the local LINKS program. Contact your local agency or Erin Conner, the State LINKS Coordinator, at [email protected], for additional information and resources.

Meet Our Foster Care 18 to 21 State Program Coordinator

LeAnn McKoy is the Foster Care 18-21 State Program Coordinator. She has extensive experience with over 16 years of direct child welfare and mental health agencies across the state of North Carolina. She can be reached at [email protected].


Supporting Young Adults through the Pandemic

During the COVID-19 pandemic, additional supports have been provided to young adults aging out of foster care. Young adults were provided additional flexibility in meeting eligibility criteria while participating in the Foster Care 18 to 21 program. When employment and educational activities were interrupted due to COVID-19, counties were encouraged to explore other creative, skill building ways to help young adults remain eligible for the program. Additional financial assistance was provided to support housing and technology needs. An additional $100 was provided to supplement room and board costs for young adults. Young adults participating in the Foster Care 18 to 21 program and enrolled in public schools qualified for the Pandemic Electronic Benefits Transfer (P-EBT) funds. Additional supports and flexibilities are being evaluated to assist young adults transitioning out of foster care.

Ongoing Supportive Resources for Older Youth and Young Adults

Pandemic Electronic Benefit Transfer (P-EBT). The Education and Training Voucher (ETV) and NC Reach programs continue to provide outreach and supportive services. These programs provide scholarships for eligible youth and young adults transitioning out of the foster care system. For more information visit

Foster Care to Success. The Education and Training Voucher (ETV) and NC Reach programs continue to provide outreach and supportive services. These programs provide scholarships for eligible youth and young adults transitioning out of the foster care system. For eligibility information visit

Assurance Wireless. This is a Federal Lifeline Assistance program that can help eligible low-income individuals receive free data and unlimited texting, free monthly minutes, and a free phone. For more information visit

NC 2-1-1. This is an information and referral service for free and confidential resources, including food access, mental/physical health needs, housing resources and other community resources. For more information visit