Slowly, there is growing recognition among state and local authorities that the needs and challenges of children in foster care do not magically cease to exist when they turn 18. Today’s New York Times addresses this topic:
DETROIT â€” When current and former foster children formed a group to help youths who had turned 18 and were â€œaging outâ€? of the system, one of the first things they did was hold a luggage drive.
â€œWe saw that a lot of the kids were taking their clothes out in garbage bags,â€? said Chilton Brown, 23, a former foster child who spent ages 3 to 18 as a ward of the state, bouncing around 15 family homes or group residences.
A life contained in green plastic bags: it is the kind of humiliating detail that hits home hardest among foster youths themselves. It is also a telling sign of how unprepared many of these 18-year-olds are to live on their own, without families, jobs or school diplomas to shore them up.
In part because of the increasing advocacy by foster youth groups like Mr. Brownâ€™s, many states are expanding efforts to help young adults prepare for life outside the system, offering transitional housing, education, medical care and mentoring as they step out on their own. States are also extending aid for extra years, in some cases to age 21 or even beyond.
â€œWeâ€™re finally seeing a recognition by public agencies that they have a responsibility to this population beyond the age of 18,â€? said Gary Stangler, director of Jim Casey Youth Opportunities Initiative, a foundation in St. Louis that is helping to organize foster youth boards and offers matched savings accounts as well as job aid in 10 states. â€œIn our society, most 18-year-old kids arenâ€™t ready to be thrust into the world.â€?
Long in the shadows, the plight of aging out foster youths â€” some 24,000 a year nationwide who fail to be adopted and usually leave court-monitored care at 18 â€” is gaining new attention, as youths speak out and research reveals the numbers who end up in homeless shelters, jail and long-term poverty. [full text]