The Answer Book: Turning 18

What happens when I am in foster care and turn 18? Do I stay or do I go? How can staying in DCF care help me become a successful adult?

Table of Contents

Can I still receive the DCF services that I had before I turned 18?

YES! 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. In order for DCF to approve your request to sign on after your 18th birthday, there are some things that you have to agree to that you should discuss with your social worker/adolescent outreach worker and lawyer. If you want to stay in DCF care and DCF agrees, you “sign on.” You are called a “young adult” instead of a “child.”

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 have to agree to do some things (e.g., allowing the social worker in your home once per month and going to school or working) and DCF keeps providing you with help and financial support.

Do I have to stay in DCF care when I turn 18?

No, but you can decide to stay in care. If you decide to leave care, DCF has to help you create a transition plan 90 days before you leave care, and the judge has to review it with you in court and will approve it if it looks okay. Talk to your social worker and lawyer about whether you should stay in DCF care.

If I am younger than 18, how do I sign on for services from DCF when I turn 18?

You can ask your lawyer or social worker 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 discuss with DCF about what you need to do to stay in DCF care and to keep getting services. Start talking with them early on, well before you turn 18.

What services would I receive if I stay in care after I turn 18?

You should receive at least:

  • Health insurance (MassHealth)
  • Referrals for services such as counseling and job training
  • Help applying and paying for college, a job training program, or a certificate program 

If I sign on with DCF, where will I live and how will I get money to live?

It depends on your situation. Usually your social worker decides what to offer you for housing, but will consider what you want. 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 your social worker offers you a housing situation that does not work for you, contact your lawyer.

How you receive money to live also depends on your situation. Usually DCF pays other people to care for you. DCF may:

  • Pay your foster parents or guardians a daily amount;
  • Pay a group home, independent living program or apartment so you can live there;
  • 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; or
  • Help you with applying for financial aid so you can live in a college dorm.

If you went into guardianship or were adopted in your late teens, your guardian or adoptive parent may receive support for you from DCF until you are 22.

If DCF is not providing you or the person with whom you live money, contact your social worker and/or your lawyer.

Can I get services from DCF if I am already 18 and have not signed on yet?

Yes, you are eligible for services until your 22nd birthday. 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 you present, with a modified plan, or not at all. For a list of DCF offices see Helpful Resource Information. 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).

Can the lawyer I had when I was in foster care help me after I leave care?

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 your lawyer 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, contact your lawyer and ask for help. If you do not know who your old lawyer was or how to reach your old lawyer, you can find out by calling CAFL at 617-988-8482 or email: 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.

If DCF tells you that you can't sign on and return to care, call your lawyer for help. 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 Fair Hearing unit at DCF that looks at the letter and should give you a hearing. At the hearing, your lawyer and you can argue to an independent 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.

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