Homeless After Foster Care: Young, Vulnerable, and On Their Own

woman_on_train_tracks-220x300On a chilly night in January 2012, the Metro Area Continuum of Care for the Homeless’ (MAACH) Youth Task Force conducted short interviews with 267 young people who were experiencing homelessness.  More than three-quarters were 18 or younger.  A total of 35 percent had dependent children; 54 percent had not yet graduated from high school.

More than half had been in foster care.

Studies estimate the number of homeless youth with foster experience to be high, particularly because of the other negative outcomes that arise when the state fails to reunify children with their biological parents or connect them to a permanent, loving family.  When these children grow up into young adults and venture out into the world on their own, the sudden loss of support coupled with the lack of permanent connections can be crippling.

Unfortunately, as discussed in Nebraska Appleseed’s new fact sheet, there is no way of knowing the exact number of Nebraska youth who have experienced homelessness, nor is there a way to identify those who also spent time in foster care—or, worse, aged out of the foster care system.

The good news is that we have an opportunity to begin addressing this problem.  Extending services and support to the age of 21 for youth who have been in foster care can make the life-changing difference between homelessness and a stable transition into young adulthood.  A recent federal law, the Fostering Connections to Success and Increasing Adoptions Act of 2008, provides an opportunity for states to receive federal matching funds to create a “safety net” of extended services and support to 21 for young people who age out of foster care.  These services would include health care coverage, housing support, and young adult-directed case management services.  Programs under the Fostering Connections Act have been created in more than a dozen other states, but not yet in Nebraska.  Several laws currently target youth homelessness, but our fact sheet reveals none focus specifically on youth with foster experience.  Therefore, extending services and support in Nebraska as allowed by the Fostering Connections Act is critical to addressing the unacceptably high rate of homelessness among young people who have been in foster care.

Contact your state senator, the Governor, and the Department of Health and Human Services today and let them know that extending services and support to 21 is a crucial protection to help young people making the transition from foster care to adulthood.

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