06/15/2022 18 & On Your Own

“Aging out” of foster care. What’s next?

For your typical young person in America, turning 18 or 21 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 they must leave the foster care system because they were never adopted and are too old to stay in care.

The statistics are devastating.
  • Just 3 to 4 percent of youth who “aged out” of foster care earn a college degree.
  • By age 24, 40 percent will have experienced some form of homelessness.
  • By age 26, only about half will be employed.
  • About half of youth emancipated from foster care have chronic health conditions, such as asthma, post-traumatic stress, malnutrition, and dental decay. Up to one-third lack health insurance.

The challenges associated with aging out of foster care also affects communities. For example, a 2014 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 solution to these challenges can be found through coordinated efforts and resources provided by a combinations of government agencies, nonprofits, community organizations, corporations, families, and individuals. There is a unique role for both the government and private and public institutions to play to ensure that young people who are aging out of foster care have the opportunities they need to grow and thrive.

“HopeWell has a vision for creating and sustaining innovative programs that provide youth who are “aging out” of foster care the opportunities they deserve to learn, grow, and thrive, as they work to fulfill their hopes and dreams.”
-HopeWell President and CEO Shaheer Mustafa

At HopeWell, our passion and experience for this work enabled us to be selected as the inaugural member of the My First Place Affiliate Network. Our My First Place™ program is specially designed to support young people who are aging out of the foster care system without the support of a permanent family as they launch into adulthood. The program is a housing-first initiative, providing rent-free housing to ensure a safe, stable foundation. My First Place™ also supports each youth with their personal education and employment goals. The program was first developed two decades ago by First Place for Youth™, a California-based nonprofit.

A team of staff  — including Youth Advocates, Education and Employment Specialists, and Housing Specialists  —  support each young person who participates in the program, employing a youth-centered, needs-driven, trauma-informed approach.

We first launched My First Place™ in the Greater Boston area in 2018. In 2022, we were able to expand the program to serve more youth in Greater Springfield, Massachusetts. Our work in partnering with the Massachusetts Department of Children and Families has enabled us to leverage funding and support from Liberty Mutual Foundation — as well as the Mabel Louise Riley Foundation, the Fish Family Foundation, The Boston Foundation, the Kraft Family Foundation, State Street Foundation, and individual donors — have all been vital to the success and growth of My First Place™.

In Massachusetts, 600-900 young people “age out” of the foster care system each year, without the support of a permanent family as they launch into adulthood.