A group that I mentor with, Connections Homes, was in the news last week, and my husband and I were part of the interviews (for about 15 seconds). You can see the story here.
Mentoring young adults who have aged out of foster care has brought home to us many of the unavoidable glitches in the foster care system. Most teenagers age out while living in group homes, which means that they have had little experience in making independent decisions. Even those in independent living programs are bound by inevitable institutional rules. For example, liability concerns and lack of insurance prevent many organizations from teaching teenagers how to drive. So they leave care without having many of the life skills that most of us take for granted.
The statistics about these young adults are brutal. Almost 24,000 will age out of foster care every year, and 20% of those will be immediately homeless. Only 50% will have some sort of gainful employment by age 24. Less than 3% will earn a college degree, and 25% will be incarcerated within 2 years.
Georgia and several other states allow youth to voluntarily remain in care while pursuing education and independent living skills. But, as I noted above, even independent living programs have significant shortcomings. This is an area where individuals really need to fill in the gaps.
I’ve written before about ways that individuals can help foster parents. Add this one to this list — mentoring young adults who have aged out of foster area can be a very rewarding way to help former foster kids. Groups such as Connections Homes work with young adults who don’t need a place to stay, but do need advice and family connections. It’s a great way to provide help that governments and institutions simply cannot fit into their systems.