Abused. Abandoned. Neglected. These are the qualifying adjectives identifying children in foster care. Some children came under governmental supervision owing to the death, illness, or incarceration of a primary caregiver. Perhaps the caregiver experienced mental health issues or had a substance abuse problem. Whatever the reason, adequate family or community support systems were not in place to fill in for the parent when a crisis arose. Thus, the child was placed in foster care. Absent exceptional circumstances, a child in the foster care system is considered to be an adult upon reaching the age of 18 and must enter the adult world with little or no economic, social, educational, or other critical support systems. The 18-year-old must find a home, a source of income, and become an adult—quickly.
Over the past 15 years, I have been contacted by judges, guardians ad litem, caseworkers, attorneys for parents, and others asking for help when they encounter a child aging out of foster care with a unique situation that they believe may be eased by my intervention. When I’m approached, I usually begin by asking a barrage of questions: Is the child developmentally, emotionally, or physically handicapped? If so, is there any appropriate individual who may be willing to serve as a guardian advocate or plenary guardian after the child turns 18? Is the child eligible to receive any governmental benefits owing to disability, and if so, have any efforts been made to qualify the child for these benefits? Are either or both of the child’s parents deceased or disabled? If so, is the child eligible to receive death or disability benefits owing to the parent’s circumstances? Is the child eligible to claim any injury that might provide a source of economic recovery? Were any governmental benefits held on behalf of the child while in foster care improperly returned to the Social Security Administration or other entity? (If funds in excess of $2,000 are recovered, a special need trust or some other sort of trust might extend the child’s eligibility for benefits or protect the child from exploitation or poor management.) Has anyone taken a special interest in the child along the way, and is this person willing to serve as a mentor for the child long after the court’s normal jurisdiction over the child has ended? Answers to these basic questions have led me to discover economic resources that might have otherwise been overlooked. Searching for sources of additional funds to help children aging out of the foster care system is immensely challenging and very satisfying when one finds a hidden resource that can help bridge the gap while the kid is growing more mature.