From Safety Net to Sudden Freedom: Youth Aging Out of Foster Care

By Caitlin Prior

In the United States, young people who were in foster care are more likely to become involved in the criminal justice system, to require public assistance to meet their basic needs, to be homeless, and are less likely to be employed and graduate from high school, let alone complete a 2 or 4 year college degree. See the Jim Casey Youth Opportunities Initiative, Youth Aging Out of Foster Care: What Policymakers Need to Know.

In New York, a state that allows youth to remain in the foster care system until age 21, approximately 800 youth age out of the system each year.  Once they exit, they, like foster youth nationally, “have difficulty on their own, struggling to support themselves and often end up homeless.” Exact data as to how youth adjust after aging out of care is lacking; however, New York City’s public advocate, Bill De Blasio, proposed a bill that would ask the government to collect data from numerous city agencies, in an attempt to have a better sense of whether the government is “putting them on the path to success or creating a generation of disconnected youth stuck in poverty.”  For more info, check out the article in the New York Times.

It is important that legal advocates for young people in foster care be cognizant of both the needs of the youth while in care, in addition to contemplating their lives after care, and attempt, as best they can, to place the youth on “the path to success.”   This entails assuring that proper documentation is acquired, any immigration difficulties are solved, stable housing is set up, medical insurance is arranged and that the young people have had the life skills and employment trainings necessary for independent living and for obtaining stable employment.  In addition, the young people should be connected to stable adults who can act as continuing support systems for their sudden transition to adulthood. If the needs of young people after care are advocated for while still in care, then hopefully the sad reality spoken of initially will not be realized and they can become independent and valuable adults.