William & Mary Bill of Rights Journal


Teenagers aging out of foster care face harms that can be traced to their lack of preparation for adulthood. This Article argues that teenagers in foster care have a substantive due process right to services not only while they are in state custody but also after they age out of care. The lower federal courts have interpreted the Supreme Court's decision in DeShaney v. Winnebago County Department of Social Services to mean that foster children-like prisoners and mentally retarded people held in state custody-have a substantive due process right to personal safety. What the courts have not considered is how these rights apply to foster teenagers. For teenagers, the primary risks of harm are associated with leaving care, not harm from within the system. Foster teens should have a recognized right to receive services to prepare them for adulthood, at least until age eighteen and potentially into adulthood. If they do not receive such services and then suffer harm as a result of the denial, they should be able to sue for a violation of their constitutional rights.

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