Any wise elder, self-help book, or motivational speaker will tell you that in order to succeed, you have to have a plan. You have to begin with the end in mind. But, how can you plan for a successful future when you’re not sure what the next week, month, or year will hold for you in the most fundamental areas of life? Who will take care of you? Where will you live? Will you have enough to eat?
These are questions that foster youth are asking.
Foster care: a temporary solution?
Foster care is supposed to be temporary. It’s supposed to be a crisis intervention when family members are unable to care for their children. Ideally, the crisis passes, and children can be returned to their parents or relative caregivers quickly.
However, only around half of all kids in foster care have a permanency plan to return home. Due to no fault of their own, the other half of foster children will never return to their family of origin. More than 23,000 children will age out of the foster care system this year.
Twenty-three thousand 18 or 21-year-olds will receive the harshest of birthday gifts. Instead of celebrating coming of age alongside family and friends, they will be given a stack of paperwork, brochures, and resource lists. In the months approaching their birthdays, they were likely coached on how to find a place to live and how they should create a grocery budget. They likely learned in an “independent living skills class” how to do their own laundry or how to navigate public transit.
And then, their time is up.
In one day, a foster youth can become homeless and uninsured, with little or no means to obtain employment or housing on their own. How could these youth plan for (or even dream of) success?
There’s no way for someone on the outside of that system to imagine what it’s like.
Aging out: stories from those who have been there
In observance of Foster Care Month, we’ve compiled a list of first hand accounts from youth who aged out.
The Day I Age Out | This three-part PBS series follows two young people, Corey and Mykell, in the weeks leading up to and following aging out. Corey came into foster care as a toddler, and Mykell was born into the system. Hear in their own words what the foster care system has been like and what challenges they face securing housing and making ends meet after foster care.
Report: Foster Kids Face Tough Times After Age 18 | Josh Mendoza was placed in foster care after his mother’s drug use left her unable to care for him. He lived in 14 homes in two years before he turned 18 and was out on his own. Listen to his story and others from NPR.
Sherena Johnson | Sherena spent 9 years in foster care before she aged out of the system. After experiencing physical and emotional abuse, she likens herself to a phoenix. Find her story on page 4.
Stories of Aging Out – Baily | After being bounced between homes, fifteen year old Baily told her case workers that she wanted to be adopted. They told her that she was too old to even try. Baily shares how she navigated the foster care system and built a relationship with a foster mother who changed her life.
Covenant House: Taquan’s Story | Tanquan was placed in foster care when he was 2 years old. When he aged out, he became homeless. Tanquan describes his dreams of being a sports journalist and accomplishing something great from the Covenant House New Jersey shelter for homeless youth.
For further reading and to discover how you can serve the needs of youth who age out (even without being a foster parent) see our posts 5 Reasons Foster Youth Become Human Trafficking Victims and What do 437,500 Kids in the US have in Common?
Did one of these stories stand out to you? Do you have questions about aging out? Let us know in the comments below!