Your Basic Rights When Aging Out of Foster Care
Before you leave foster care, your agency should:
- notify you in writing 90 days before your last day in foster care
- find a place for you to live for at least a year, NOT A SHELTER
- identify people and services that can help you when you are on your
- give you a discharge grant or take you shopping for furniture and
- keep you on a “trial discharge” for six months, or until you are 21, so
that you can get help from the agency or return to foster care if you
- help you complete your education (GED, vocational or college
- help you find employment and get job experience
How Do I Leave Foster Care?
Before you leave foster care you will be either trial or final discharged.
A trial discharge is a six-month period where you are technically in the
custody of ACS, but are able to live on your own in the community. Your
agency must get permission from the Family Court and explain to the
Court why you should be trial discharged before they can discharge you.
Your lawyer must also agree. Your lawyer is entitled to 10 days advance
notice of the trial discharge. Before you are discharged, the agency must
continue to assist you in finding services, and providing clothing
allowances and Independent Living stipends. Your agency must help you
find housing or take you back into a group or foster home if you become
homeless during this period. A trial discharge is required for all young
adults being discharged to independent living. After six months, trial
discharge becomes a final discharge.
If you are final discharged, the agency no longer has legal custody or
authority over you. When you reach age 21 and you do not wish any
further contact from the agency, or when your trial discharge period ends
without being extended you are considered to be final discharged. Before
your 21st birthday, the agency must seek permission from the court, and
must notify your lawyer 10 days in advance of you being final discharged. If
you become homeless after a final discharged, the agency doesn’t have to
put you back into care and doesn’t have to offer you services or referrals.
What do I need to do and have before leaving foster care?
It is very important that you get identification with a photograph (drivers license, non-driver ID or U.S.
Passport) and if you are an immigrant, clarify your legal status, before you leave foster care.
- Immigration status: If you were born in the U.S., make sure you have
your birth certificate and Social Security card. If you weren’t born in the U.S., you need to have a green card. If you do have a green card, you should apply for citizenship. To be eligible to apply, you must have lived in the U.S. while holding a green card for five years. If you don’t have legal status and aren’t in the process of applying for it, you should immediately contact the Lawyers For Children’s Immigration Rights Project at (212) 966-6420, The Door Legal Services at (212) 941-9090, or the Legal Aid Society, Immigration Unit at (212) 577-3300 for information on a SIJS order. LFC has created a handbook about immigration called You Are Not Alone.
You can request a copy by phone and you can read and download it by visiting www.lawyersforchildren.org
- Birth certificate: You should contact the ACS liaison to Office of Vital
Records, at (212) 676-7304. The application is available online at
- Social Security card: You should call (800) 772-1213, or visit your local Social Security office to apply for a card. The application is available online at www.socialsecurity.gov/online/ss-5.html
- Driver’s license or non-driver photo ID: You should go to the nearest Department of Motor Vehicles. The application for a non-driver photo ID requires that you provide acceptable proofs of identity and date of birth. Acceptable proofs of identity are listed at
- Legal name change: If you want to change your name for any reason, you must file a name change petition in Civil Court. You will have to submit an original or certified copy of your birth certificate, a selfaddressed envelope, an original and a copy of the name change order and petition, an original and two copies of the Request for Judicial Intervention form, and purchase an Index Number from the County Clerk for $210. You should call to verify the current cost for an Index Number More information is available online at
You do not need a lawyer to file this form.
High school: While in foster care, you should still be attending high school. Your agency must pay for things like prom dresses, clothes for graduation, school uniforms, school expenses (including class rings and yearbooks), and certain extracurricular activities. If you need any of these things paid for, you should speak to your caseworker or your lawyer.
If you decide a regular high school isn’t for you, the agency should help you find a GED program to get your degree. There are many GED programs available in all five boroughs with different hours and different costs. There are even some attached to colleges, or to vocational programs. Your agency should assist you in finding a program that’s right for you, and in paying for it or finding financial aid for it if there’s a tuition fee.
The agency is obligated to assist you in finding employment and that
includes finding you the right vocational or trade school. If that’s what you
would like to do, the agency should help you find one, and should also help
you find financial aid if you need it. Make sure that your caseworker knows
that you want to find a vocational school, and that you get help filling out
applications for admission and for financial aid.
Whether you decide to go on to college or a vocational school, the agency is responsible for helping you locate financial aid. Make sure when you’re filling out applications that you indicate you’re an “independent” or “ward of the state”. Because you’re in foster care, no one else’s income information counts—not your foster parents, and not your birth parents. Being independent may help youqualify for more financial aid.
ETV stands for Education and Training Voucher. The New York Education and Training Voucher Program offers funds to current and former foster children for college or vocational programs. You can qualify for up to $5,000 a year for four years of higher education. ETVs can be used for
tuition, books or other qualified expenses.
Discharge to Homelessness
ACS should not discharge you to homelessness! The agency must find you other suitable housing that will last for at least one year. You should be aware that if you are not complying with the agency’s plan for you, they can ask the court to give them permission to discharge you without a housing plan!
If you are finding it difficult to cooperate with your agency’s plan because you don’t like your caseworker, see if you can work with the Independent Living coordinator directly, or the caseworker’s supervisor.
There are three main housing programs for youth aging out of foster
care: New York City Housing Authority (NYCHA), Section 8 and the ACS
Housing Subsidy. There is a NYCHA priority for youth aging out of foster
care. There are income requirements, and a criminal history may disqualify you from being eligible. Section 8 is reopened, on a limited basis, only for those who have already submitted applications, and it is not clear whether the program will continue. You can apply for an ACS Housing Subsidy through ACS that will pay $300 to your landlord towards your rent. This program may also pay part of your broker’s fee, security deposit, moving expenses, or other one-time expenses, up to $1,800, even if you
have not located an ACS Housing Subsidy qualified apartment. This larger sum of money for brokers fees, deposit, etc., is often referred to as the “one shot” grant. It is extremely important for you to understand that you cannot
receive both the NYCHA priority and the ACS Housing Subsidy. You should apply for both and see which one is approved and is appropriate for your needs. If you need further information about housing resources, contact your caseworker, your lawyer, or the Administration for Children’s Services Office of Youth Development at (212) 361-1974.
Supportive housing is available to you if you have mental or physical disabilities, HIV/AIDS and/or addiction issues. There are different levels of support ranging from apartments to adult residential facilities. Supportive housing offers services on site.
You must qualify for supportive housing through the Human Resources Administration (HRA). HRA and the Office of Mental Health (OMH) determine what level of supportive housing you qualify for, and there are often waiting lists for openings. If you think you may qualify for supportive housing but no one has discussed it with you, talk to your caseworker or your lawyer.
You can get money for furniture either through ACS’ Day Program Services or the “one-shot” grant through the ACS Housing Subsidy program. Make sure you speak to your caseworker and find out whether you qualify for these funds and how the funds are given to you. You may have to pay first and then be reimbursed. Public assistance may also help with furniture costs, and with the security deposit and first months’ rent. Be sure to ask your case manager about these programs.
When you are discharged from care, you may be eligible for a discharge
grant of up to $750 from ACS. You are eligible for this grant if:
- you were in foster care continuously for six months or more;
- you have a permanency goal of return to
parent, discharge to a fit and willing relative, or independent living;
- your goal is approved by the ACS case manager or ordered by the court,and
- you haven’t received a discharge grant within two years before the
Public Assistance, Food Stamps, Medicaid
In order to avoid a gap in benefits, the Human Resources Administration agreed to allow youth in foster care to submit applications for public assistance before they are discharged from foster care. You can submit an application 45 days before discharge for public assistance for single individuals, and 30 days before discharge for individuals with children. Go to the nearest NYC Job Center to apply. Food stamps are also included in the application for public assistance, or you can apply for them separately at a Food Stamp Benefits Office. Ask your caseworker forassistance if you feel you need help with the applications.
When you are in foster care, you have health insurance through Medicaid under the foster care agency and ACS. Your coverage should last for three months after you leave foster care.
Once you’re on trial discharge or leave foster care, you should immediately reapply for yourself at a Medicaid office in any hospital.
Employment Programs and Referrals
There are a variety of federal, state, local and ACS programs that your agency can refer you to. The NYC Department of Youth and Community Development (DYCD) Out of School Youth Employment programs,
NYC DYCD In School Youth Employment programs, and the ACS/HRA partnership are some of the programs.
Your agency can even let you work in their offices to gain job experience.
If you have any questions or concerns about leaving foster care, or for more information on any of this, speak with your caseworker and call your lawyer!