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RAISE The Standard, February 2024, v.10 n.3

RAISE (The National Resources for Access, Independence, Self-determination and Employment (RAISE) Technical Assistance Center) logo

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man and woman talking with female foster child

Foster Care/Justice Issues

In this issue of RAISE: The Standard, we explore the unique needs of youth in the foster system, and how to improve outcomes through the transition planning process.

Did you know that 40–50 percent of adolescents in the U.S. foster care system have disabilities?

The numbers are growing. New research shows the population of youth with intellectual and developmental disabilities in foster care has grown substantially since 2016, and the rates of autism and intellectual disability among youth in foster care are now two to five times greater than the rates found in the general U.S. population. Among youth with intellectual and developmental disabilities, Black youth and female youth had a higher risk for foster care involvement compared to youth who were white or male.

What does this mean for transition planning? An estimated 29,000 young adults age out of the foster care system every year, and youth with disabilities are no exception. The outcomes for these young people are troubling.

Youth with disabilities who age out of foster care...

  • Are more likely to be unemployed.
  • Are more likely to be homeless or impoverished.
  • Are less likely to pursue a higher education.
  • Among youth with disabilities exiting special education:
  • 20% of IEPs had no goals listed.
  • Only 31% of IEPs had a goal for post-secondary education.
  • Only 16% of IEPs had a goal in for independent living.
  • 32% of transition goals listed had no accompanying action steps.
  • 22% of the time the student themselves was listed as the sole person responsible for working towards a goal.
  • Nearly all IEPs reflected little understanding or acknowledgment of foster care issues.

Click here to access the full report.


Christina Abraham, left, talking with Nightly News Correspondent Antonia Hylton and sharing her experience aging out of foster care.

Aging Out of Foster Care

Transition to college and career may not be the most important transition, especially for youth in foster care. In this NBC news segment, Christina Abraham shares her experiences as she ages out of the foster care system and searches for her own place to live. She has been a ward of the state since she was only 8 and first experienced depression when she was only 10 years old.

“The rug can be pulled from you in the last minute...”

–Christina Abraham

To access the video, click here.


female teen with cerebral palsey with her foster parents

Meeting the Challenges

Because youth with disabilities in foster care face extraordinary barriers, they require above-average transition planning, services, and supports. Here are nine recommendations, including seven from a recent study(*), to help remedy this:

1.   Ensure coordinated transition planning.

At the local and state level, agencies (e.g. child welfare, education, vocational rehabilitation, employment) should form “partnership councils,” with the goal of the council being to create a transition community for foster youth with disabilities. The council should address policy issues (such as shared consent) across agencies, clarify agency roles, and identify mechanisms for pooling resources across agencies to provide flexible funding to help youth establish adult lives.

2.   Appoint and train educational surrogates.

An educational surrogate should be appointed for each foster care youth in special education. The appointment processes should be thoughtful, and in some cases, a biological parent, family member, mentor, or Court Appointed Special Advocate (CASA) should be considered to provide greater continuity. While the foster parent may typically be considered for this role, he/she should be fully aware of and prepared to meet the level of commitment and involvement required. Once designated, the educational surrogate should receive training around the special education process and their rights. The training should also focus on supporting the transition plans and self-determination of youth.

3.   Train professionals.

Child welfare professionals, school staff, vocational rehabilitation counselors, staff in one-stop career centers, and other key professionals should be trained on supporting the specific transition needs of foster youth – from a youth-directed perspective.

4.   Engage in effective transition practices.

Research has documented a number of practices effective in promoting a successful transition. These include (a) youth involvement in transition planning; (b) participation in extra-curricular activities and general education; (c) career planning and work experience that is individualized to a student’s career interests; (d) instruction in skills such as self-determination, self-advocacy, and independent living; and (e) mentorship. Foster youth with and without disabilities need more opportunities to participate in these activities, and at an earlier age.

5.   Develop transition plans that matter.

While transition plans are meant to provide a roadmap between school and adult life, they may frequently be viewed by professionals as perfunctory paperwork. The majority of plans reviewed in a recent study were not individualized. They were overly general, and lacked a description of the action steps needed to obtain a goal. In addition, the transition plans generally did not support accountability. Often the plans had no specific timeline for goal completion, failed to identify a responsible person (other than the youth), and did not include measurable outcomes. If transition planning is to have a meaningful impact, we must focus on the goal of students achieving a successful adult life, rather than on the mechanics of simply getting a plan done.

6.   Promote high expectations for youth.

A recent study indicates that the transition plans of foster youth with disabilities, in comparison to peers in special education only, are less likely to address college/post-secondary education, are less likely to have foster youth slotted for a standard diploma, and had significantly fewer goals overall. Considering that the foster care and special education only groups were similar in terms of disabilities, these differences may reflect lower expectations for foster youth. For youth with disabilities in foster care to achieve a quality life, professionals must see them as capable of accessing a full range of post-secondary education and employment opportunities.

7.   Consider involving the biological family.

Research has shown that youth who continue to have a relationship with their biological families while in foster care have better outcomes than youth who do not. The connection a young person has to his/her birth parents and/or sibling(s) may be particularly important during the transition to adulthood, when a youth may have little else. Indeed, research reveals that many young people discharged from foster care re-engage with their biological families. While not all youth may choose to reunite with their family, and in some cases this may even be contra-indicated, professionals should consider involving birth parents in the transition planning process more frequently. The study suggests that schools rarely involve birth families in the IEP/TP meeting or the transition process.

8.   Gather important personal documents.

Many youth in foster care do not have easy access to the documentation they will need as young adults to apply for a driver’s license, apply to college, get a loan, apply for financial aid, get an apartment, open a bank account or apply for a job. As part of transition planning, work to ensure that paperwork including birth certificate, Social Security Card, photo ID, vaccine records, and other paperwork is in place. Its absence can be a real barrier to transition,

9.   Ensure a seamless medical transition.

Early adulthood (ages 18-21) is a period of transition, not only from school to adult life, but from “system” to “system.” Youth exiting foster care system and the special education system will also age out of a children’s system of health care insurance and into an adult health insurance system. They will also likely become their own guardians, making them responsible for medical decision-making. Healthcare transition planning is therefore a vital component of transition planning in general. The Administration on Children and Families recently expanded Medicaid (incl. moving to another state) for youth in foster care.

Click here to read more.

(*) The full study can be accessed here.


Juvenile Law Center

The Pennsylvania Developmental Disabilities Council, in coordination with the Juvenile Law Center, created a tool to assist in the transition of youth with intellectual and developmental disabilities from the child welfare system to adulthood. The tool is designed for use by child welfare professionals and is intended to direct planning for individual youth and to influence case planning policies in county and private child welfare agencies.

This tool highlights key areas and actions that need to occur for youth with disabilities to successfully transition from the child welfare system. It is designed to be used as a supplement to an agency’s comprehensive child welfare planning process to highlight special issues and action steps for youth with disabilities.

Click here to access a tool to assist in transition planning.


Illustration of family with one child standing atop a bar graph

Speak Your Mind

Do you ever wonder what educators and service providers can do to help enhance the ability of youth to speak their minds? We love this short, animated video from the Annie E. Casey Foundation.

Click here to access the video.


There are eight (8) Rehabilitation Services Administration (RSA) Parent Centers throughout the United States that provide training and programming to youth and young adults with disabilities, their families, professionals, and other Parent Centers. The focus is on issues surrounding youth transition.


RSA Parent Centers are funded by the Rehabilitation Service Administration (RSA) under the Office of Special Education and Rehabilitative Services (OSERS), which is part of the US Department of Education.

PEATC Waze to Adulthood logo

In this issue of RAISE, we highlight WAZE to Adulthood, an RSA-funded project of Virginia’s Parent Educational Advocacy Training Center (PEATC) aimed at providing youth/young adults with disabilities, their families, and those professionals who serve them up-to-date, high-quality resources, information, and training to meet their diverse needs. PEATC, as the Region B1 RSA Parent Center, works in collaboration with parent training centers and other disability organizations throughout the six-state region that includes Virginia, North Carolina, South Carolina, Georgia, Tennessee, and Florida to identify and to address state-specific gaps in services and systems to help improve long term outcomes for individuals with disabilities.

While they have many resources, we especially love their use of visual strategies to help youth understand key concepts. 

Check out these resources:


icon with several books on a bluish green circular background

Webinar on Reaching the Hard to Reach

Transition Planning for Youth with Disabilities from the Child Welfare System to Adulthood: A Guide for Professionals:

Child Welfare Gateway



State and National Data to Drive Foster Care Advocacy


March 18 at 2pm ET

Getting on the Same Page: Helping Families and Youth to “Think College.”

Click here for more information and to register.

April 15th at 2pm ET

Transition Discoveries: Your Voice. Your Story. Your Future

Descubrimientos de Transición: Tu voz. Tu historia. Tu future.

Click here to learn more and register.

RAISE The Standard

Collaboration • Empowerment • Capacity-building

RAISE The Standard enewsletter identifies and shares resources that the Rehabilitation Services Administration Parent Training and Information Centers (RSA-PTI) can use and share with families.

Executive Editor:

Josie Badger

Visit our Website:

The RAISE Technical Assistance Center is working to advance the accessibility of its digital resources, including its websites, enewsletters and various digital documents.

* For more on SPAN Parent Advocacy Network and all of the complementary programs supported, visit


RAISE, the National Resources for Access, Independence, Self-Advocacy and Employment is a user-centered technical assistance center that understands the needs and assets of the RSA-PTIs, coordinates efforts with the Technical Assistance provided by PTI centers and involves RSA-PTIs as key advisors and partners in all product and service development and delivery.

US Dept of Education logo seal

The RAISE Center is a project of the SPAN Parent Advocacy Network and is funded by the US Department of Education's Rehabilitation Service Administration. The contents of this resource were developed under a cooperative agreement with the US Department of Education (H235G200007)). However, the contents do not necessarily represent the policy of the Department of Education and should not assume endorsement by the federal government.

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