Growing Too Old: Aging out of Foster Care

teens

Each year, between 20,000 to 25,000 foster children age out of the system and attempt to begin life on their own.  Of the 500,000 children in care in the United States each year, this is a large number and disturbing percentage.   For many foster children, foster care is a temporary service before returning home to a parent, moving in with a biological family member, or even beginning a new life in an adopted home.  Yet, for thousands who do not find reunification with family in their lives, reaching 18 years of age can be a tremendously frightening experience.  For others, 21 is the year where they may find themselves no longer part of the foster care system, depending upon the state the foster children reside in.

For most young adults leaving home for the first time, they have someone to rely on when facing challenges, difficulties, and trials.  Whether the problems are financial, emotional, school oriented, or simply a flat tire that needs to be fixed, most young adults can pick up a phone and call an adult who is quick to help.  Foster children who age out of the system many times do not have this type of support, no one to call; no one who can come to their aid.  Foster children who age out of the system face an array of problems and challenges.  Too often, these children have already faced such hardships as neglect, abuse, learning disabilities, and abandonment.  Along with this, the majority of foster children have difficulties with school, with over fifty percent of those who age out dropping out of school. Indeed, only two percent of all foster children who age out graduate from college.  Lack of financial skills, work experiences, social skills, and various forms of training, along with the lack of support from family and caring adults makes it even more problematic.

As a result of these obstacles and challenges, most foster children who age out of the system find themselves at risk in several ways.  To begin with, when foster children leave the foster care system, they often have no place to call home.   Over half of all youth who age out of the system end up being homeless at one point at least once in their young lives.  As they struggle with financial problems, finding a safe and stable place to call home is often hard.  Too many foster children are forced to turn to the streets for a time. If they are fortunate, they may end up in a homeless shelter, but this is often not the case.

Recent studies have found that adults who have spent time in foster care suffer from the ravages of post-traumatic stress disorder.  So wide spread is this amongst former foster children that it doubles the rate of those US combat veterans who suffer from it, as well.  Indeed, many youth who leave foster care suffer from a number of mental health disorders, including depression, high anxiety levels, and mental illnesses.  Along with this, large numbers of these young adults face the trials of not having proper health care and insurance, as they lose the coverage that was provided for them while in care.  Many simply do not have someone to care for them when they fall sick or face medical emergencies.  Pregnancy levels at an early age are at greater risks among those females who have spent time in foster care, and many young men who age out of the system unexpectedly find themselves fathers and are unable to properly provide for the child.