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Mimi asked me to contribute to this guest post by writing about the struggles that come with aging out of foster care and how supportive adults can help. “Aging out” refers to youth leaving foster care without achieving permanency through reunification with their birth family or adoption. Here’s what I’ve got:
First, put yourself in the shoes of foster care alumni:
Think about all of the resources and support you gained from your parents and family after “becoming an adult” at age 18 and transitioning to adulthood. Did it include:
§ Financial support for college or post-secondary education?
§ A place to continue to call home while starting your first job or on college breaks?
§ Independent living skills on how to cook, rent an apartment, or purchase a car?
§ Hand-me-down furnishings and supplies for your first apartment?
§ Health insurance?
§ Someone to call in an emergency or for advice?
§ A place to go for holidays?
§ A support system for the challenges and the joys that naturally come with living life?
Foster youth who age out of care do not have families to provide any of these resources and supports. We must rely instead on ourselves, whatever networks of support we’ve managed to create, and the meager resources provided by the foster care system prior to aging out. As a 21 year old navigating the challenges that come with young adulthood, I continue realizing more and more just how much of a loss it is to age out without a family for all of the reasons listed above.
Unfortunately, the lack of material resources is often the least of a foster care alum’s worries. Consider that emotionally, most foster youth have a strong background of trauma, abuse, neglect, abandonment, and instability. The inner world of a foster youth can be even more tumultuous than the outer world!
What are the outcomes when you combine a challenging background with a lack of support? Not surprisingly, the results are discouraging:
§ Less than half of foster youth graduate high school, and only around 2-3% earn a college degree.
§ 25% become homeless within two years of aging out
§ 25% become incarcerated*
How can I help?
The good news is that ordinary people can make a difference for foster youth and those who have aged out!
§ Listen to foster youth tell their stories. Asking good questions and listening are so underappreciated. If you know someone personally who has aged out of foster care, ask about his or her experiences and how having aged out is impacting life now. Ask how you can specifically be supportive.
§ Get involved.
· Ultimately, the best way to help foster youth is to help them achieve permanent connections with loving families. Adopt or support the adoption of waiting children in foster care. Adopt US Kids and the Dave Thomas Foundation for Adoption are good places to start.
· You can also support foster youth who have already aged out of care, perhaps through Foster Care to Success or The Camellia Network. Both organizations work to provide encouragement as well as material resources to youth who have aged out.
· If you are able to connect with a former foster youth in your area, consider how you can step in to meet some of the needs normally addressed by a family. Something as simple as spending an hour teaching a young adult about basic money management or how to apply for educational scholarships can make a huge difference in creating positive outcomes!
§ Don’t be afraid. Foster care carries a lot of stigma, but like all people, foster youth need love and support and will do best when they receive them.