Aging out of the foster care system without being properly equipped for survival is one cause for youth disconnection. Approximately 29,000 youths are released from foster care every year at the age of 18. Foster care youth do not have personal assets or financial savings to rely on once they have left the foster care system. This makes it extremely difficult to secure housing or withstand the effects of unforeseen problems in their personal lives or with the economy. Additionally, unlike other teenagers these youth do not have a network of family and friends which they can turn to for assistance. They are completely on their own and thus, susceptible to a number of problems.
Released foster youth are also forced to grow up faster than ordinary youth because they do not have the emotional and financial support one needs when things suddenly go wrong in life. They must quickly muster the responsibility, diligence, and patience necessary to cope with all of the “adult battles” they will face once released from the foster care system. Without the necessary aid and proper transitioning training, these youths may fall prey to homelessness, unemployment, mental illness, criminality, substance abuse, along with several other problems.
The principal program designed to support youth during their transition from foster care to living independently is the Foster Care Independence Act of 1999. It provides about $140 million in funding every year for mental health services, mentoring, employment preparation, educational aid, stipends for housing, and extended Medicaid eligibility. Although this bill looks promising, it is severely limited. Only two-fifths of youth receive independent living services and availability varies widely from state to state. Also, although the budget is a large sum of money, it only translates to about $1,000 per youth, which is barely enough to afford decent housing conditions. A bill recently signed into effect, the Fostering Connections to Success Act, is better able to provide the funding these youth need. Unfortunately—and unwisely—states are not mandated to utilize this funding and many have actually chosen to discontinue foster care benefits when the youth is released.
It has been discovered that released youth who receive foster care benefits until the age of 21 have a greater chance of avoiding the challenges of transitioning from foster care to living independently. Clark Peters, an assistant professor at the University of Missouri’s School of Social Work, believes that all states should extend foster care benefits. According to his research, “Foster youth who continue to receive benefits through age 21 have improved outcomes including a greater likelihood of attending college and achieving financial stability.”
In his study, Peters also found that having the benefits of continued care outweighed the costs of not having it by 2 to 1. In other words, youth that receive the aid have more opportunities to make effective changes to living independently and as a result, they utilize fewer governmental benefits later in life and have higher incomes (resulting in more tax revenue for state and federal governments). Therefore, there is real incentive on the governments’ part to extend these benefits—not only is it advantageous for the foster care youth but also for the society as a whole.
Obviously states do not realize the implications of allowing foster youth to receive their aid. Nonetheless, there are a number of non-government supported programs in the United States that are dedicated to helping released youth make a successful transition out of the foster care system. Their endeavors, however, would be a little less challenging if more states were willing to extend foster care benefits.Sources:
http://www.transad.pop.upenn.edu/downloads/courtney–foster%20care.pdf by Betty Diop (Re:LIFE Writer/Columnist)
B.A. Applied Psychology
Edited by Chike Ukaegbu