Guest post by Annie Evelsizer
For many youth on their 18th birthday of their senior year of high school, there is a desire to host a party to celebrate their first small step towards adulthood. There are worries over what should be worn, what snacks to serve, if anyone was left anyone out, and if there would be enough time to decorate.
What youth not in foster care don’t think about was where they will sleep that night… if the doorway I hunkered down in would provide enough protection from the elements… if, when they do finally drift off into an exhausted sleep, would someone take the opportunity to rob or abuse them… or how they would pay for their next meal, let alone when it would work for them to see a doctor for an annual wellness exam.
The transition towards adulthood and self-sufficiency is challenging for any youth. It is a season of tremendous growth, development and change; during which time they are exploring who they want to be. Teenagers tend to run between wanting to “test the waters” of adulthood while also charging back into the safety and protection of a stable familial structure. (1) However, generally speaking, youth who have been in foster care do not have the same safety nets and support networks in place as they step into adulthood. More often than not, these young adults are thrust into a life on their own without several key foundational elements established. (2) There seems to be a pervasive lack of:
- Stable housing
- Adequate education or job training
- Employment abilities or opportunities
- Access to healthcare
- Emotional, mental and physical well-being
- Social connections and community
The consistent theme being a lack of. Not only are these youths being propelled towards the daunting task of transitioning into adulthood without these foundations, youth in foster care oftentimes have already lived through traumatic experiences and periods in their childhood development which can set them up for additional hurdles with their physical and mental health, as well as their self-confidence and emotional well-being. Compared to their peers, youth departing from foster care have a much higher risk of dropping out of school, ending up in jail, experiencing homelessness and becoming parents before they are ready. (3) With nearly 15,000 young people aging out of foster care at age 18 each year, solutions must be found. (4)
Solutions for a Personal Path Forward
What is the solution to these vast and dynamic challenges? It is giving youth transitioning into adulthood the opportunity and tools to plan and guide their personal path forward. This can be accomplished, in part, by “extending high-quality, developmentally-appropriate services to age 21” as is outlined in the national campaign Success Beyond 18, a national campaign whose initiative aims at creating a better path for youth aging out of foster care. (3) Ultimately, taking solution-based steps alongside these youths is beneficial to all of us, as the cost of not doing so is dire. There are nearly incalculable social and economic repercussions for these individuals which eventually falls on the greater community. (5) Over the past two decades, federal laws and programs have been continually developed, enhanced and strengthened to better address the needs of the thousands of youths aging out of foster care across the country.
Coming Alongside to End the Trend
However, even after decades of dedicated focus on finding solutions, the facts lay bare the reality that our work is not yet finished with 36% of foster youth experiencing homelessness by the age of 26. (4) Instead of being a foster care system in crisis, we need to continue towards ending the trend and coming alongside these young people who are thrust into adulthood much too quickly and without adequate support systems and tools in place.