Health Care Transition to Adulthood for Child Welfare Involved Youth

Child welfare professionals are used to thinking about transition to adulthood for the children they serve. Health care needs should be high on the list of transition issues, especially when a child has a chronic health condition.

For youth with special health care needs who are in foster care or other placements, health care transition preparation and planning is critically important yet frequently over looked. According to the Juvenile Law Center:

The transition to adulthood is challenging for youth, even in the best of circumstances. Youth with disabilities in the child welfare system face many additional barriers to a successful transition. These young adults are leaving a system that provided for all their needs, including a place to live, health care, education, and connections with family. To plan for care in the adult world, not only must these youth navigate complex adult systems that operate with rules very different from child-serving systems, but often they must do so alone, without the guiding hand of a parent. They are entering an adult world where the rules for access to benefits and services are quite different: health care coverage is much more limited, most services are not entitlements, and many services have long waiting lists.


To successfully transition from the child welfare system, young adults with disabilities and special health care needs—and the professionals and advocates working with them—must begin planning early and need to know what benefits and services are available in the adult system and how to access them. Good planning and knowledge of the law, services, and supports that individuals with disabilities need as they make the transition to adulthood from the child welfare system can improve outcomes tremendously for these emerging adults.

The Juvenile Law Center has developed an excellent transition planning toolkit for youth with disabilities involved with the child welfare system and child welfare professionals. It includes a guide for professionals, a parallel guide for youth, and a useful, easy-to-use tool to facilitate the process.

Health care transition preparation ideally should start when the child first receives a diagnosis of a chronic condition. Transition preparation involves helping the child or youth develop skills to be their own health advocate. The Children's Hospital of Philadelphia website has helpful resources for children and youth and for their parents/caregivers.

Primary care practices that are aligned with the Medical Home model utilize tools to monitor transition readiness and support transition preparation and planning. Visit the national Health Care Transition Center and their Six Core Elements of Health Care Transition , a set of tools to help pediatric practices build their capacity in transition preparation and planning. This site is helpful for child welfare professionals, too.