Juvenile Law Center

Child Welfare and Foster Care

Older Youth with Disabilities

Youth with disabilities are over-represented in the child welfare and justice systems.1 Once they enter these systems, they face worse outcomes than their non-disabled peers.2 The special needs of youth with disabilities are neither timely identified nor adequately addressed, especially in the group and institutional settings in which these children are disproportionately placed. These settings provide poor transition and permanency planning for these youth. Additionally, there are few systems in place to plan for specialized services and support after these youth leave state care. “In short, too many children with disabilities get into care, too few get out, and too often they’re in the wrong place while there.”3

Transitioning to adulthood is challenging for all teenagers; youth with disabilities face additional barriers to a successful transition. These young adults often lose a place to live, health care, education, and connections with family. As adults, they must navigate new and complex systems that operate under different rules. Health care coverage and other entitlements are more limited  and the available adult services often have long waiting lists.   

To improve outcomes for these youth, Juvenile Law Center promotes policies that ensure that youth with disabilities:

  • are timely and appropriately screened, identified, and tracked to improve service delivery and planning;
  • have full access to all appropriate child welfare and juvenile justice services as required by the Americans with Disabilities Act and the Rehabilitation Act, including reasonable accommodations to receive permanency and independent living services; 
  • are placed in the least restrictive settings and integrated into the community to the greatest extent possible;
  • receive a quality education, including a transition plan in their Individualized Education Plan as required; and
  • have the necessary services and supports in place before their discharge.   



Youths with Disabilities  in the Juvenile Justice System (National Disabilities Rights Network September 2007), http://www.ndrn.org/images/Documents/Issues/Juvenile_Justice/NDRN_JDAI_handout_prevalence_92607.pdf
Forgotten Children: A Case for Action for Children and Youth with Disabilities in Foster Care 5 (Children’s Rights & United Cerebral Palsy 2006) (summarizing the research), http://www.childrensrights.org/policy-projects/foster-care/children-with-disabilities-in-foster-care/
3 Nancy Rosenau, Supporting Family Life for Children with Disabilities: What We Know and Don't Know in Gaylord, V., LaLiberte, T., Lightfoot, E. & Hewitt, A. (Eds.). (2006). Impact: Feature Issue on Children with Disabilities in the Child Welfare System 19(1), http://ici.umn.edu/products/impact/191/default.html


Last updated: 2/10/2015

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