When foster children reach a certain age and haven’t been placed in a permanent home or reunited with their birth families, they “age out” of the foster care system. Depending on the state they live in, foster children age out at either 18 or 21.
For most, coming of age doesn’t mean a celebration of independence like it does for most Americans. Instead, aging out means facing the world without the support or love of a family.
What Does Aging Out Mean for Foster Children?
Statistics about children who age out of foster care are incredibly bleak. Young people aging out of foster care are less likely to graduate high school, and only about 4 percent of them earn a college degree by age 26. Homelessness is also a problem among young people who age out of foster care — one in five will become homeless after they turn 18.
The source of these problems is easy to identify. Without a support system, young people who have aged out of foster care are suddenly forced to find jobs, places to live and transportation — on their own. For many Americans, this new independence is exciting, but most people have the opportunity to become independent slowly, with training wheels and a loving support system and safety net.
Young people who age out of foster care might lack basic things that other Americans take for granted, like a driver’s license, work experience and positive role models. Without these things, they are forced to sink or swim. Aged-out foster children often lack the skills or support to help them make a living, and in addition to homelessness, some also end up involved in drugs or other criminal activities.
How Can You Help?
More than 20,000 young adults in America age out of foster care every year. The best way to help is to consider adopting older children in the system. Adopting older children is a tough prospect, which presents far more challenges than other adoptions, but older children are also the ones that often need the most support.
Of course, there are other ways to help. Some states now offer extended foster care for young people over the age of 18, who are enrolled in an educational program, actively seeking employment, working 80 hours a month or unable to work or attend school due to a medical condition. Opening your home to foster older children, who would have otherwise aged out of foster care, is an incredible way to help those young people find their feet in an unforgiving world.
Beyond adoption and foster care, you might want to volunteer your time in a mentorship program for foster children like CASA, which stands for Court Appointed Special Advocates and pairs volunteers with “abused and neglected children, to make sure they don’t get lost in the overburdened legal and social justice system or languish in inappropriate group or foster homes.”
Whether you look into adopting an older foster child, become a foster parent, volunteer as a mentor for struggling foster children or donate money, you can make a positive difference in the lives of young people who never found permanent homes. The problems young people who age out of foster care face are real, but with care and compassion, you can help them navigate the world and find their way.
Author: Destiny Adoption Services
Destiny Adoption Services is proud to support and guide birth parents and adoptive families on the journey of adoption. We’re a state licensed nonprofit adoption agency with four decades of adoption experience, and our professional team of experts includes moms, adoptive moms and birth mothers who provide compassion combined with trusted resources and skills.