“The thing about extended foster care is, it’s a deal, but it comes with strings attached.”

Since 2008, nearly every state in America has extended foster care to age 21, an effort to help prevent the staggering levels of homelessness and criminal justice involvement experienced by those who “age out” of the system. In most systems, the extra help for young adults comes with rules about education and employment.

In 2010, California became one of the first states to extend foster care when the Fostering Connections to Success Act became law in 2010. In this series, The Chronicle of Social Change spent months examining the first decade of this new safety net.

We found a system that has shown promise in helping young people save money and advance their education as they move toward adulthood. But many foster youths also struggle to navigate the rules required to keep their benefits.

This four-part series was reported and written by Karen de Sá, Sara Tiano and Katarina Sayally, with editing by John Kelly. Christine Ongjoco created the illustrations. The project was mostly reported before the coronavirus pandemic struck, and included months of ongoing communication with current and former foster youth, observations in two confidential courtrooms and interviews with more than 60 child welfare experts. Facts have been updated to better reflect current circumstances.