“Aging Out” of Foster Care

charmaineswart_S6302877Statistics on the long-term outcomes for former foster children are, unfortunately, bleak.  While some youth “beat the odds”, far more struggle compared to their peers on measures related to educational attainment, employment, poverty, homelessness, health care, early pregnancy, and involvement in the criminal justice system.

However, recently enacted federal legislation, the Fostering Connections to Success and Increasing Adoptions Act, provides an opportunity to help these youth better bridge the transition to adulthood.  The new law also provides an opportunity for states to make certain improvements in the foster care system, including better services for older children that can begin to turn around these statistics

For instance, research from the Chapin Hall Center at the University of Chicago indicates that:

  • Only one to 10 percent of former foster children graduate from college compared with about 30 percent in the general population of young people;
  • Only about two-fifths of Midwestern youth who “aged out” of foster care were employed by age 19 compared with nearly three-fifths of the general population, and over three-quarters of those who had worked in the past year earned less than $5,000;
  • Approximately one in seven youth experienced homelessness after aging out of foster care;
  • About one-third of former foster youth studied suffered from mental health problems such as PTSD, substance abuse, and depression; and
  • Almost half of the young women in a Midwestern study had been pregnant by age 19, which was twice that of their peers.

Click here for related child welfare research from Chapin Hall.

Furthermore, a recent article in the New York Times highlighted the fact that, not surprisingly, former foster youth struggling to make it on their own are yet another group hit particularly hard by the current recession.

The Fostering Connections to Success and Increasing Adoptions Act provides, among other things, federal matching funds for states that choose to offer foster care services up to the age of 21 and additional supports for children who age out of the foster care system.  Research suggests that youth who continue to receive services during this period tend to fare better than those who do not, and that providing these services also saves money in the long run, yielding an approximately two to one return on the investment.

Click here for an FAQ on the young adult provisions of the Fostering Connections law.

We hope Nebraska chooses to take full advantage of the opportunities presented by this new law.  This spring, Appleseed worked with Senator Campbell to introduce an interim study to examine the implementation of the law in Nebraska and we hope this study will present a forum for the state to examine the full range of its mandatory and optional provisions.

The transition to adulthood can be a precarious period for many young people, even in a good economy.  But for former foster children who may not have other resources to fall back on, it can be even harder.  We have an opportunity now to help ease this transition and create a more positive future for our youth and for our state.

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