May is National Foster Care Month and there will be attention in the media this month on the status of foster care in America. If you want to learn the stories of foster youth aging out I can recommend a few methods. There are two You Tube videos to watch- Shane and Baily. I HIGHLY (repeat HIGHLY) recommend renting the video “Aging Out” from Netflix. Another DVD that ABC Primetime did in 2006 called “Calling All Angels” is excellent and available from Amazon.
While the numbers of youth in foster care has declined in recent years one group of youth in care still present challenges for foster care agencies---older youth in care. What surprises most people is that a youth in care is considered older not at 15 or 16 but at 4 or 5. The chances of being adopted from foster care decline dramatically after the age of 1 or 2 years of age.
The number of foster parents willing to foster teens is always a small number because of the challenges of working with youth who have been traumatized by family first and then by the foster care system. For many older youth the path in foster care is one of bouncing from foster home to foster home and many end up in group facilities. The cost of group care for a foster youth can be more expensive per year than the cost of an Ivy League college. Most states are seeing their foster care budgets being eaten up with the increasing cost of group care. Here in Maryland efforts to find more family placements for foster youth in group care have had mixed success. While new foster families have been recruited through the Place Matters program, the number of foster families leaving the system continues to be a problem.
For youth aging out of foster care the results can be discouraging. While some youth show amazing resiliency and overcome difficult odds for many the challenges can be many. For many youth leaving care weak support systems can lead to homelessness, few employment opportunities, and continual financial problems. Incarceration rates for youth aging out can be as high as 30%, 25% don’t have a high school diploma, only 3% have a college degree by the time they are 25 and over 50% have experienced some time of being homeless since leaving care. For many girls leaving care the high rate of pregnancy can limit their career choices and present significant financial challenges.
Foster youth can easily become a “hidden” population in many communities. The shame of being in foster care can cause many foster youth to withdraw into themselves. They can easily blame themselves for their circumstances and become wary of adults offering support. Many times it is easier to reject others than to be rejected again themselves. Defensive behaviors developed to protect themselves can be problematic when they need to develop support networks.
For any community looking to address the needs of its vulnerable members this population of youth aging out of care should be a priority. Children who have been “wards of the state” deserve all of our support in meeting the challenges they face.
"Tell your neighbors" has an excellent post today on volunteering for disaster training.