The last day of this month, which has focused on foster care, very appropriately is National Aging Out of Foster Care Awareness Day. It’s a day to consider the almost 23,000 kids who age out of foster care every year, many of whom have no safety net. They can’t go back to family for various reasons, and they haven’t connected to a foster family. They have to face adulthood without the support that most of us took for granted as young adults.
The statistics for kids who age out of the system are brutal. Almost 20% report being homeless shortly after leaving the system, and only 57% report being employed. Almost one in five end up incarcerated after aging out, leaving them with a record that adds to their difficulties with employment.
It is a need that many nonprofit groups and state agencies are grappling with, but the community needs to help. The good news is that it’s much easier for volunteers to help these kids than children still in the system. Most of the young adults do have somewhere to live, so they don’t need the full-time parenting that their younger siblings require. What these young adults need most often are mentors to teach them independent living skills and help them navigate the perils of early independence. They need an extended family connection to give them some stability as they learn how to be fully functioning adults.
My husband and I are mentoring with Connections Homes, one of the pioneers in this field. We have enjoyed adding our mentees to our extended family, and are constantly inspired by their resilience. In many ways, we benefit far more than they do from the relationship.
There are many other groups and agencies that need help with their work on this knotty problem. This site has links to groups throughout the U.S. that work with young adults transitioning out of the system. Ways to help range from signing up to be a mentor to financially supporting independent living classes.
The trauma of foster care does not end when children leave the system. There is still plenty that needs to be done to help young adults leaving the system, and there are plenty of ways that the community can help them.