Q I’ve just turned 18 years old. Can I still receive the DCF services that I had before?
YES! With your permission and DCF’s agreement, DCF can continue working with you until you turn 22. DCF will offer each young adult the opportunity to continue with DCF services beyond the age of 18. You should contact the DCF area office where you live and say that you want to apply for services. You will work with a social worker to come up with a plan, and then a Young Adult Review Panel will determine whether you can sign on with the plan as presented, with a modified plan, or not at all. If you want to stay in DCF and you "sign on," you will be called a “young adult” instead of a “juvenile.” If you are having trouble receiving services, ask for the Adolescent Outreach Worker at your DCF office or call Maureen Fallon Messeder at DCF at 617-748-2231. She is in charge of Adolescent Services. You can also call the Children's Law Center (1-888-KIDLAW8, or 1-888-543-5298).
Q What services do 18-22 year olds receive who choose to remain in care?
- You can choose to leave DCF care when you turn 18, but you don’t have to. You can choose to let the Juvenile Court or Probate and Family Court keep supervision of you until you turn 22.
- You will still have the right to a lawyer who can help in creating your permanency plan.
- If you decide to leave care, DCF will work with you during the 90 days right before you plan to leave. During these 90 days, you will work together to create a personalized transition plan for yourself
- Your transition plan will make sure you have the supports to be successful after leaving DCF care. The plan makes sure you know where you will live, your health insurance, and where you will go to school if you choose that. The plan will also identify adults who can help you.
- Your plan must include the services you need before the Judge will agree to it.
- Your plan must be approved by the Judge in court before you leave DCF care.
- If you leave DCF care before you turn 22 but then decide you want to return for support, DCF has to make “every reasonable attempt” to give you support and services. That means they have to try really hard to get you the things you need.
Q Do I have to stay in DCF care when I turn 18?
You do not have to stay in DCF care when you turn 18. Most young people choose to sign on with DCF so that they can continue to receive services and support. If you decide to leave care, DCF has to help you create a transition plan 90 days before you leave care. The Judge has to review the plan and will approve it if it looks okay. Talk to your social worker and lawyer about whether you should stay in DCF care.
Q What does “signing on” with DCF mean?
Signing on means you stay in DCF care. You sign a Voluntary Placement Agreement that states that you are voluntarily agreeing to get services from DCF. You and your social worker will discuss which types of services and support you need to be successful. You give DCF power to continue making some decisions for you, and they keep providing you with services and financial support. You have to agree to do some things such as allowing the social worker in your home once per month and going to school or working). Talk to your social worker and lawyer about whether you should sign a Voluntary Placement Agreement. It can help you in a lot of ways, but it may not be what you want. Talk to your social worker and lawyer about whether you should sign on. Remember it is your choice.
Q How long will DCF give me services if I “sign on” with DCF or was recently adopted or placed in guardianship?
If you sign on, you can continue to receive DCF services until you turn 22. If you went into guardianship or were adopted in your late teens, your guardian or adoptive parent may also continue to receive support for you from DCF until you are 22.
Q If I am younger than 18, how do I sign on for services from DCF when I turn 18?
Before you turn 18, talk to your social worker and lawyer about what your goals are and how you can reach them either in or out of care. You will also discuss this at your foster care reviews and at permanency hearings. You can ask your lawyer to help you write a letter to DCF to explain what you want to do. Plan ahead. Don’t wait until after your 18th birthday to talk to your lawyer and social worker about this. Your lawyer and you may need to negotiate with DCF about what you need to do to stay in DCF care and to keep getting financial support and other services. It is best to start negotiating early on, well before you turn 18.
Q Am I eligible for services from DCF if I have already turned 18 and have not signed on yet?
You should contact the DCF area office where you live and say that you want to apply for services. DCF will assess your situation and needs and determine how best to meet those needs. You may sign a Voluntary Placement Agreement if placement with DCF is the best plan for you. If you are told that it is too late to apply for services or that you cannot sign on, you can also call the Children’s Law Center (1-888-KIDLAW8, or 1-888-543-5298). If you still have trouble trying to receive services, you can also call your DCF outreach worker or Maureen Fallon Messeder at DCF. Her phone number is 617-748-2231.
Q What can I do if DCF tells me I can’t sign back on?
Call your lawyer for help. If you are already 18, DCF may tell you that you have to be in school or working at least 20 hours per week, or be involved in a program that helps you get a job. If you don’t have a lawyer anymore, you can always call your old lawyer or the Children’s Law Center (1-888-KIDLAW8) for help. Your lawyer can help you negotiate with DCF and appeal through the Fair Hearing Process if DCF decides not to let you sign back on. To appeal, your lawyer or you can write a letter to the Fair Hearing unit at DCF to say that you want to sign back on and you want to appeal DCF's decision not to let you. There is a separate unit at DCF that looks at the letter and should give you a hearing, called a Fair Hearing. At the hearing, your lawyer and you can argue to a separate Fair Hearing officer that DCF should change its decision and let you come back. You can do this without a lawyer, but you should ask your old lawyer to help you.
Q Can DCF decide to stop giving me services after I have signed on?
DCF has to make every reasonable attempt to provide you with support and services. That means they have to try hard to get you what you need. If DCF decides to stop giving you services, then they must help you create and prepare a transition plan 90 days before your services end. You help write this plan, along with your social worker and lawyer. The Judge must decide whether to approve it.
Q If I sign back on with DCF, what services can I receive?
You should receive at least:
- Health insurance (MassHealth). This also may be available if you do not sign back on.
- Referrals for services such as counseling and job training.
- Help applying and paying for college, a job training program, or a certificate program.
These services may also be available to you if you do not sign back on. Depending on your situation, you could also receive:
- A place to live;
- Money for your own apartment and/or food;
- Help in getting furniture if you have your own apartment.
Q If I sign back on with DCF, where will I live?
It depends on your situation. DCF normally makes the decision but needs input from you. You could live in a foster home, a supervised apartment, a college dorm, your own apartment, a group home, a residential program, or an independent living program. If DCF offers you a housing situation that does not work for you, contact your lawyer.
Q If I sign back on with DCF, how will I get money to live?
This also depends on your situation. DCF usually pays other people to care for you. DCF may:
- Pay your foster parents or guardians a daily amount so that you can stay in their home.
- Pay your current group home or other placement so you can continue to live there.
- Help you find a new place to live such as an independent living program, an apartment, or a group home.
- Pay you money for housing if you have shown that you are responsible with your money. You can then use the money that DCF pays you for rent, food, and other things you need.
- Help you with applying for financial aid so you can live in a college dorm.
If DCF is not providing you or the person with whom you live money, contact your lawyer.
Q Can my old lawyer help me if I want to sign back on with DCF after I already left?
Yes, your old lawyer can help you try to return to DCF to get help. You can ask to come back to DCF, even if you left after you turned 18. When you leave DCF, try to keep your lawyer’s business card and phone number so that you can reach them if you change your mind and want to go back to DCF to get services. You can ask to come back up until your 22nd birthday. If you decide you want to come back, you should contact your lawyer and ask him or her to help you.
If you do not know who your old lawyer was or how to reach them, you can find out by calling CAFL at 617-988-8482 or email: email@example.com. Someone from CAFL will call the court to find out who your lawyer was. Sometimes the court clerk will not give out this information over the phone and you may have to go into court yourself to find out who your lawyer was.