Aging Out of Foster Care

Every year, thousands of young men and women age out of the foster care system lacking the stability and life skills to prepare them to live as productive adults. Many of these youths will find themselves without a high school degree and unable to secure gainful employment, which can lead to homelessness, poverty and entry into the criminal justice system. This session highlighted innovative approaches states are taking to protect foster care children and provide hope to those who find themselves rapidly aging out of the foster care system.


John L. Johnson and Michael Leach

  Download the presentation "State of Tennessee: Youth in Transition" in PDF (without audio) as a Video (with audio) 

Patrick W. Lawler and Mary Lee

  Download the presentation "Youth Villages Life Set" in PDF (without audio) as a Video (with audio) 

  • Discussion and Questions and Answers by the Panel in Video (with audio)

Speakers' Biographies: 

John L. Johnson, Director of Foster Care, Kinship, Guardianship and Adoptions, Tennessee Department of Children’s Services
Johnson has 18 years of experience with child welfare practice in Tennessee, starting as a part-time social counselor at Indian Mound Boys Home for Delinquent Youth. His experience with the Tennessee public child welfare agency, the Department of Children’s Services, includes service as case manager, front-line supervisor and experience in the Training Division during the agency’s implementation of its family group conferencing model, Child and Family Team Meetings. He has extensive experience in the field of foster care and adoption related to implementation of universal screening/assessment, implementation of evidence-based practices, data collection and other areas of quality improvements across family systems. 

Patrick W. Lawler, CEO, Youth Villages

Lawler leads Youth Villages, one of the largest private providers of services to troubled children and their families in the country. Under his leadership, Youth Villages has established an array of specialized treatment programs operated by an effective team of more than 2,700 employees in more than 70 locations across 12 states and the District of Columbia. As part of his work, Lawler collaborated with Tennessee's Department of Children's Services to establish the Youth Villages Continuum of Care, a nationally recognized service approach. In 2006, Lawler was recognized as one of “America's Best Leaders” by U.S. News & World Report in conjunction with the Center for Public Leadership at Harvard University's John F. Kennedy School of Government.

Michael Leach

Leach leads the Independent Living team at the Tennessee Department of Children’s Services, which is charged with building networks of appropriate supports and services for youth transitioning out of care, as well as for those who are likely to remain in care after turning 18. Leach and his team help youth attain and sustain ongoing connections with caring adults, acquire and maintain gainful employment, achieve educational/vocational goals, and receive financial assistance and skills training. He previously worked in clinical roles at the Vanderbilt Center of Excellence and Child and Adolescent Outpatient Clinic. He also has experience in facilitating crisis response services at a community mental health center. In 2014, Leach received the annual TN CASA Champion of Children award.

Mary Lee, Youth Villages

Lee coordinates National YVLifeSet for Youth Villages, where she helps provide the most vulnerable young adults, some of whom are aging out of foster care, with the skills necessary to achieve their life’s fullest potential. At Youth Villages, Lee helped to establish the YV Scholars program, which offers young adults in YVLifeSet the additional support to meet their educational goals that may have seemed previously unattainable. One of Lee’s greatest achievements was helping ensure foster youth adopted from state custody would not have to choose between being adopted by a forever family and pursuing higher education, like she did. Her story inspired the Fostering Adoption to Further Student Achievement Act (nicknamed the Mary Lee Act). Earlier this year, Lee was honored by the White House as a Foster Care Champion of Change for making a difference in her community.