As parents, we know that that we do more for our children then provide them with the basics of food, shelter and clothing. Sometimes it seems as if they are more difficult to care for in their teenage years than when they were infants! There are too many bad turns they can take, and they lack the maturity to make responsible decisions.
This is the same predicament for teenagers who have to leave the foster care system at 18. It’s called “aging out,” when a child turns 18 and goes out on their own.How many times have we threatened our kids with 18 and out only to eat our words? Imagine losing the only lifeline they know, suddenly thrust into a world that doesn’t provide many resources for succeeding. How do they apply for college? Get their first apartment? Have the relationship skills to develop a meaningful relationship with a member of the opposite sex or the life skills to financially go it on their own?
That’s the problem. In 2011, more than 26,000 children in foster care aged out of the system. Unfortunately without a support system, there are at a huge risk for homelessness, drug use, joblessness, incarceration or welfare dependency. By releasing these teenagers at 18, are we setting them up to fail?
The answer is yes.
The statistics validate the point. When it comes to 18-year-olds leaving foster care:
- 12 – 30% are homeless
- 40 – 63% never finish high school
- 31 – 42% have been arrested’
Although The Fostering Connections to Success and Increasing Adoptions Act was enacted in 2008 by the federal government, offering financial incentives to states that choose to extend foster care, 25 states have not implemented the law.
What England Is Doing
And England agrees.Today they announced that all children in England will be allowed to stay with their foster parents until they are 21. Under the new law, local authorities will be legally obligated to help the foster parents if the teenagers want to stay. More than £40 million extra in funding is being added into the coffers to pay for this expenditure over the next three years.
According to Children and Families Minister Edward Timpson (whose family fostered more than 90 children himself) additional monies will be available for the teenagers themselves who are aging out of foster care at 18. “A growing number of local authorities already offer young people the choice to stay but with little financial support it can be challenging for their foster families,” said Timpson. Now all councils will have to follow their example.”
Child rights campaigners cheered.
What Good It Will Do
Think of how much wisdom you acquired between 18 and21. These are fundamental years for developmental and emotional growth. These years can be crucial to gaining maturity. The longer these foster children receive support and stability, the better their chances are for success. It will help them feel less vulnerable, less isolated, and give them some much needed time to obtain some invaluable life skills and a better education.
In the long run it will be better not only for them, but for taxpayers as well. According to the Jim Casey Youth Opportunities Initiative, it costs taxpayers and communities an average of $300,000 for every 18-year-old that exits foster care in social costs for public assistance, incarceration and lost wages over that individual’s lifetime. With 26,000 kids aging out per year, this adds up to $7.8 billion.
Let’s face it. Although teenagers think they don’t need parents and think they want to be on their own, they would be bereft without the support, guidance and resources of a stable family. Although Obamacare may help them with some of their health and dental expenses, they need more options. They need a safety net – if they want to be out on their own at 18 and it doesn’t work out, they should be allowed to re-enter the foster care system. There should be more supervised independent living options. And more college career counseling and financial aid available to them.
Is this the panacea? No. We need more initiatives such as the Jim Casey Success Beyond 18 campaign and we need more states to adopt the Fostering Connections to Success. However, we can’t just rely on the government or schools to take care of this problem. We all have to pitch in.
We as individuals can help these children create better futures. We can’t all be foster parents, but we all can help. How? If you’re a business owner, create a job program. Donate your vehicle so they have transportation. Act as a mentor. If you’re good with money, hold financial seminars to teach these kids about budgeting and savings. Donate your household items to foster kids for their first apartments. There are a million ways to get involved and we can’t afford to just sit back and do nothing.
Because doing nothing comes with too high of cost both financially and psychologically for these kids.
Jeffrey A. Kasky, Esq. is a Florida adoption lawyer and Vice President of One World Adoption Services, Inc., a Florida-licensed not-for-profit child placing agency. Jeff’s diverse career experiences include co-authoring the book, “99 Things You Wish You Knew Before … Choosing Adoption” with Robert A. Kasky, Florida-certified law enforcement officer, and involvement in the autism community, including a TV show focused on helping families with legal issues related to autism called “Spectrum at Law” on The Autism Channel. A practicing attorney since 1995, he has worked on more than one thousand adoption cases.