Turning 18 or 21 for your typical American means newfound independence. Whether it’s going off to college or having a first legal drink, most young adults eagerly await these milestone birthdays. But for more than 20,000 young adults in this country, turning 18 or 21, is not a celebratory event. Depending on the state in which they live, young adults in foster care “age out” of the system at either 18 or 21. Essentially, aging out is the process that occurs when youth must leave the foster care system because they were never adopted and are too old to stay in care.
The statistics are devastating. By age 26, only three to four percent of youth who aged out of foster care earn a college degree. One in five of these youth will become homeless after turning 18. Only half will obtain employment by 24. Over 70 percent of female foster youth will become pregnant by 21, and one in four former foster youth will experience PTSD.
The problems associated with aging out of foster care also affect the communities these youth live in. A 2013 study by the Jim Casey Youth Opportunities Initiative showed that, “on average, for every young person who ages out of foster care, taxpayers and communities pay $300,000 in social costs like public assistance, incarceration, and lost wages to a community over that person’s lifetime. Do the math and you can conservatively estimate that this problem incurs almost $8 billion in social costs to the United States every year.”
The dire social and economic effects of the aging out process, whether we realize it or not, touch each one of us. The solution to this problem can be found through the efforts and resources provided by individuals and a host of institutions like families, corporations, nonprofits, and the government. As is true for most public justice issues, there is a unique role for both the government and private and public institutions to play to ensure that aging-out youth have the chance to flourish.
At HopeWell, we are playing a key role in helping foster youth enter adulthood through our My First Place program. A housing-first initiative, My First Place works with some of the 900+ young adults who age out of foster care in Massachusetts. We work with about 30 young people a year providing them with stable and safe housing, support for education and employment as well as working with them to create healthy lifestyle choices. For more information on My First Place, call our Program Director, Janet Daly at 617.318.5178.