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Aging Out of Foster Care
By on July 30th, 2010

Aging Out of Foster Care

What if, when turning 18, you were handed a few belongings and were sent out to make your way – on your own…

In a few weeks our family is going to have a party to celebrate my nephew, Ryan, as he goes away to college.  We are so proud of him.  He will be sent off with a lot of love and a car full of things to make him feel at home in his new dorm.   We will all be a text or phone call away if he needs anything.

This has made me think a lot about the 29,000+ teens who “age-out” of the foster system each year.  How difficult it must be for these teenagers, many who are still in high school.

The transition from living at home to living on your own can be a challenge for anyone.  But imagine this situation – being taken from your home when you are young because it was not safe.  Then you are moved from home to home, hoping to find a good fit for you to settle in, with a family.  When that doesn’t work you are put into a group home.  You may often be transferred from group home to group home.  And then, when you turn 18 you are expected to know how to take care of yourself, how to set up a new home, and how to get a job immediately so that you can support yourself and pay your bills.

What is it like – to be totally on you own?  Things have never been easy for these young adults who find themselves transitioning out of the foster care life.   But at least there has always been someone looking out for them – either a foster parent or a social worker.  Everything changes when they turn 18.  A foster care youth goes from handling maybe $10 a month to abruptly managing their life on their own.

A study published in 2010 by the Universities of Chicago and Washington focused on 700 foster youth who had aged out of the system.  These youth were 17/18 when they were first interviewed.  The research group continued to interview them throughout the following years until they turned 23/24.   The study is based on the findings from these interviews.

Here is some of the data:

  • Since exiting foster care, over two-thirds of the young adults had lived in at least three different places, including 30 percent who had lived in five or more places.
  • Nearly 40 percent of these young people have been homeless or couch surfed since leaving foster care.
  • Only one-quarter of these young people reported that they felt prepared to be self-sufficient when they exited foster care.  Most commonly, they expressed a general need for training in independent living skills, especially budgeting and money management. Many also expressed a need for assistance with employment and housing.
  • More than three-quarters of the young women in the Midwest Study had been pregnant, two-thirds had been pregnant since leaving foster care, and two-thirds of those who had been pregnant had been pregnant more than once.
  • Fewer than half of the these 23-24-year-olds were currently employed.  Most of those who were employed were not earning a living wage, more than one-quarter had had no income from employment during the past year, and the median earnings of those had worked was a mere $8,000.
  • The lack of economic well-being was reflected in the economic hardship they reported, the food insecurity they had experienced, and the benefits they had received.
  • Many of the young men have been incarcerated and many of the young women are raising children alone.
  • A majority had a high school diploma or a GED, nearly one-third had completed at least one year of college, and 6 percent had a degree from either a 2- or 4-year school. (The government gives a monthly stipend to those that stay in school).
  • Two thirds agreed that they were lucky to have been placed in foster care.  Over half reported feeling satisfied with their experience while in the child welfare system.
  • Almost three-quarters agreed that they were helped by their foster caregivers and almost two-thirds agreed that they were helped by their social worker.

WE CAN HELP!  For us to come alongside these 29,000 young people and help them succeed is such a doable thing.   If a person can not foster children, then they can help in other ways.  There are programs in which you can mentor with life skills, or train how to write a resume, or give to buy furniture or food for new apartments for these youth.   What a difference we could make if we each just focused on one person.  What if each church or youth group would start a mentorship for youth in their area?  This would make a huge impact.  Let’s really think about how we can help with this.

Here is an organization that is making a difference.  http://www.cby25.org

Send us your ideas or tell us about other organizations who are taking action.

NPR did an interesting article on this subject….   http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=125594259

You can read the full study findings that we mentioned above at:

http://chapinhall.org/research/report/midwest-evaluation-adult-functioning-former-foster-youth

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July 30th, 2010
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