Each year, 26,000 American youth “age out” of the foster care system. In the past, these children lost everything including their homes, healthcare, financial assistance, and contact with social workers. This occurs after they may have already been abandoned, neglected, abused, and spent their lives cycling through foster homes. They are less likely to form strong bonds and may not have the same access to family support as biological children when they turn 18. Fortunately, federal guidelines have been put into place that require states to assist these youth with their transition to adulthood. However, there are also steps that foster parents and children can take to guide these youth in a successful transition.
What the children should do.
The one person that should be most concerned about his success after 18 is the foster youth himself. First of all, child welfare experts implore these children to rely on their foster parents and social workers for access to education and other programs that will assist them in their transition. However, these experts agree that these children, more than others, need to study at home, school, and on the job in order to set themselves up for successful independent living. Also, foster youth are encouraged to form meaningful relationships with peers, educators, and employers. These connections can provide a network of access to employment and education opportunities with lasting results in their lives. Finally, foster children that have already aged out of the system should become involved. There are plenty of chances for these young adults to use their own experiences to improve support for other youth through mentoring or simply providing foster care to other children in need.
What foster families can do.
Aside from providing foster children with the same comfort, security, and safety they would for their biological children, foster families can be the greatest asset to youth preparing to enter adulthood. Unfortunately, only 80 percent of foster youth earn a high school diploma or GED by age 26. Luckily, engaged foster parents can change that statistic by supporting and encouraging educational and job training endeavors on the part of the children in their care. At the same time, these families can promote safe social relationships through family functions, sports, and other extracurricular activities. Lastly, those involved in the foster care system can revise and improve conditions for youth by getting involved. Through activism, petition, and contact with policymakers and child welfare leaders, foster parents can raise awareness and support for youth when aging out of the system.
What the state may do.
Thanks to the United States federal government, the John H. Chafee Foster Care Independence Program (CFCIP) provides funding for states to assist foster care youth up to age 21. The main goal of this program is to improve the quality of transitional support at the state level. Additionally, the hope is to promote stable and permanent connections to caring adults. Kinship care is often helpful in many situations because it is easier for youth to bond with individuals they identify as family members. Many states are providing these young adults with temporary medical coverage and access to safe and stable housing. Others have implemented life skills training and educational vouchers for higher education and employment programs.
By the end of 2018 more than 12,000 California youth will age out of the state’s foster care system. Regrettably, these young adults are often in possession of very little money and no stable home in which to move. Many face the large possibility of homelessness, incarceration, unemployment, substance abuse, unwanted pregnancy, mental illness, and poverty. Ultimately, with recent revisions to state policy, this need not be the case. When turning 18, foster care children have many opportunities for success available to them. However, the state, foster families, and the youth themselves must remain focused on the goal to ensure a successful transition to adulthood.