Foster youth often “suffer additional traumatic experiences and stressors due to the frequent instability that comes along with being placed in out-of- home care.” (Hyde & Kammerer, 2009; Kramer et al., 2013; Leve et al., 2012). Foster children are “twice as likely to receive out-of-school suspensions, over 20% less likely to graduate from high school” (Zetlin, Andrea, and Lois A Weinberg). After graduating high school (or not), those who have not been adopted “age out” of foster care. They navigate transitioning to adulthood without the support, financially or emotionally most of those who have grown up at home receive. Post emancipation, “only three to four percent.. earn a college degree”. Perceived security in existing placements as well as frequent placement changes often makes it difficult for foster children to develop a positive view of their future or invest in their academic success (Mihalec-Adkins, Brittany P). During the corona virus foster children face another factor of instability as they are “shuttled from foster placement to foster placement. Not for the child’s fault, but because the caregivers are concerned about Covid,” Lyndsey C. Wilson.
Cycles of poverty are notoriously difficult to escape, and foster youth who age out of the system struggle navigating suddenly independant. 10% to 30% of former foster children experience being homeless for at least a night (study by Courtney and colleagues in 2001) and the probability of becoming homeless is associated with frequent placement changes in foster care (Dworsky, Amy). These youths transitioning often struggle avoiding homelessness, let alone advancing educationally, which leads to their higher risk of underemployment (Hernandez, Pedro M., and Jaegoo Lee). The intersection between “child maltreatment” and
“family disruption” present in foster care youth leads to “one-third of female respondents report(ing) a pregnancy before 18 years of age. By age 19, this percentage increased to almost half of all females”. Teenage parenting results in much lower rates of obtaining a high school diploma as well as a less succesful employment and finances. These statistics surrounding teen parents are especially disheartening especially considering the impact the support of family unavailable to foster youth, with “34% of parenting mothers who lived with their families were below the poverty line, compared to 63% of those who did not live with their families”. (Ng & Kaye, 2013).
Cycles of poverty, emotional trauma, and lower educational achievement levels all make it difficult for former foster youth to become integrated into society. Each year, about 21,000 youth leave care and are faced with living on their own (U.S. Department of Health & Human Services, 2016). Foster youth experience “high rates of chronic and complex child traumatic experiences, which is associated with an increased risk of mental health problems and vulnerabilities.” (Greeson et al., 2011; Leve et al., 2012). In fact, while harder to measure, the unresolved trauma so often associated with foster care can be seen as a primary driver for poor physical health, educational, and economic outcomes.
What types of kids are represented in Foster Care?
The same social inequity common in other areas of American society are mirrored in the foster care system. For instance, “Black parents experiencing poverty are more likely to be accused of neglect and separated from their children.” Similarly, Native American families are both disproportionately represented in the foster care system and much more likely to be transferred out of home due to parental drug use.
What are we doing now?
There have been community based non-profit solutions to meet some of the challenges young adults face after ageing out of the foster care system. For example, in New Orleans One Heart Nola assists struggling young adults to find and pay for housing, childcare, and navigate the social service system. This type of intense intervention is time consuming and expensive so are struggling to scale their services to meet the growing challenge. COVID-19 has only made the problem more difficult since communicating on a Zoom platform is not exactly a fit for this segment of the population.
The expense and cycles of trauma created by out of home placement has helped inspire some legislative changes as well. The Family First Prevention Services Act (2018) takes an important step in that direction by prioritizing “…keeping families together and puts more money toward at-home parenting classes, mental health counseling and substance abuse treatment — and puts limits on placing children in institutional settings such as group homes.”
In order to help provide assistance to these foster youth, there are a variety of action steps you can take:
– Foster a child and be a constant and dependable guardian
– Donate money or volunteer at a variety of programs such as those assisting kids aging out of the foster care system.
– You can also create relationships through mentorships such as tutoring or big sibling programs
Here is a link to an example of where you could volunteer
On a different scale you can:
– Support change that guarantees a higher minimum wage as well as free health care
– Support change to the foster care system’s way of removing a child from home that prioritizes bringing families back together
-Support change to extend foster care to age 21 across all states as well as to make sure that foster youth have a plan before becoming independant
In the comments please let me know:
1.) Do you know of any programs near you that you are willing to volunteer at?
2.) What ideas do you have that could help provide stability to children in foster care?
3.) What resources do you think should be more readily available for foster youth who are “aging out”?
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