Traditional foster care programs protect a child until they are 18 years of age. The Administration for Children and Families estimates around 20,000 youth are exiting foster care or “aging out” annually without a permanent home. Heart of Adoptions Alliance can ensure they are aware of the tools and resources available to help them gain adult independence.
Although 18 years old is considered an adult, a person leaving foster care at that age can still be quite vulnerable. When they lose access to the support system they had in place, they are at higher risk to experience:
- Housing instability or homelessness
- Behavioral and physical health problems
- Criminal activity
- Minimal opportunity for higher education
Fortunately, most states have an extension program in place for aging out foster youth. These resources positively impact youth who are still at a critical development stage of their life. There are many ways these programs assist young adults.
Higher levels of education are linked to job stability and increased earnings in adulthood. Programs can walk the teen through how to apply to college, securing financial aid, and finding a mentor or a tutor. Tuition waivers are available in many states for current and former foster children. Grants and scholarships are also available.
If the youth aging out of foster care is on Medicaid, many are eligible to remain on it for health care coverage. If they do not meet Medicaid requirements, the Affordable Care Act allows them to purchase coverage on the marketplace where premiums are reduced based on income levels. Resources can also help the youth select a healthcare power of attorney, which is critical if there is no legal guardian to make emergency decisions.
Starting adulthood with basic financial knowledge is vital. A curriculum has been developed to help aging out foster youth learn financial skills. They are educated about credit, paying bills, budgeting, banking, saving, investing, and identity protection.
Gaining employment can be a critical step for foster youth. American Job Centers are located throughout the United States. They are a resource to help foster youth identify training programs, write a resume, learn interview skills, find a job, and more. The centers can also help the individual understand their employee rights, which is critical at any age or circumstance.
Youth aging out of the foster system are at greater risk of experiencing homelessness. There are both state and federal programs to offer housing assistance for youth exiting foster care. It can come in the form of subsidized housing, vouchers, stipends, or shelters.
Once a youth ages out of foster care, extension programs have proven to offer enormous benefits. The individual is more likely to be enrolled in school, receive educational aid, and be more connected to school and work. The likelihood they will earn a high school diploma and enroll in post-secondary school increases as well. Longer-term benefits include housing stability and higher chances of employment.
A wealth of resources exists to support aging out foster youth in many areas. Check with your state to see what programs are in place to help. Teens without a permanent home need support to ensure a solid foundation as they launch into adulthood. If you or someone you know is aging out of the foster system, Heart of Adoptions Alliance can connect you with the appropriate organizations, gather information for applications, and make the most of the extension program resources. Call 866-432-7860 or email us at [email protected] to talk with a foster care professional and create a plan for your future.