Youth aging out of foster care are officially emancipated from government-sponsored care and discharged on their own recognizance, regardless of any individual level of preparedness for independent living. Numerous studies have found that these emancipated youth have higher incidences of homelessness, unemployment, and mental illness, in addition to a list of other undesirable outcomes, when compared to young adults with parents and other relatives who can continue to support their transition to adulthood. Some jurisdictions have social services programs in place to support youth as they exit foster care, but these programs are generally considered to be inconsistent and inadequate.
Foster care systems differ by country, but in a typical foster care system, such as the one in place in the U.S., a child is placed in either a foster family or a group home once the government finds it necessary to remove the child from his home. Teens entering the foster care system often have the most difficulty maintaining placement with a foster family and can end up living in a group home. Younger children who remain in the foster care system as they age can also find that a group home is the only practical option as they get older if the child is having difficulty adjusting to life with foster families.
Children in foster care are wards of the state. The government accepts responsibility for their basic care but little else. Whether or not any foster child receives a decent education, learns life skills, or becomes a functioning adult is left to the vagaries of a situation that typically lacks personalized care. Once the foster child reaches the age of majority, the government washes its hands of the matter. The young adult is classified as aging out of foster care and has to leave the group home to find a place of his own to live.
In the U.S., programs to support youth aging out of foster care are left to the individual states. Federal funds are occasionally provided, but the states control how the money is allocated and distributed, and can cut programs at its discretion. Some states provide emancipated youth a small monthly stipend to help with living expenses. Other states make youth aging out of foster care eligible for public assistance benefits if they remain enrolled in school. Certain nonprofits and other social service organizations operate programs that will help these young adults get on their feet, find an apartment, enroll in school, or apply for a job.