Aging Out: Changing the Statistics for Youth Exiting Foster Care

Success and support go hand in hand.

By: Courtney Edge-Mattos

How do you get electricity for your new apartment?  How do you open an account with a cable provider?  How do you open a bank account?  What is a credit score?  How do you know which credit card is right for you?  How do student loans work?  How do you find a career and know if it is right for you?  What is a livable wage in your area and what jobs will provide that? How do you turn on your thermostat?  What home basics do you need when you move in to your own apartment?  How do you meal plan and stay on budget? For that matter, how do you budget???

The Reality

These are questions that most kids can readily answer.  They call Mom or Dad.  Even more often, Mom and Dad teach them as they go.  Parents ask good questions, leading to effective responses.  “Do you need help filing taxes?  Did you remember to pay your heat bill this month?  Sure, I can co-sign that lease.”  These are things that, if you were born into a typical family and lived with them for your childhood and adolescence, you might take for granted.  The privilege of living in an intact family is one that most people don’t realize they have.   

These basic life scenarios can be trip wires on life’s path for kids aging out of foster care.  So many times, we hear from our kiddos who have aged out and learn that there were key elements we forgot to teach them.  No one thought to explain 401Ks to kids.  No one thought to explain health insurance and deductibles and co-pays, so when kiddos turn 26 and have to sign on for their own plan, they aren’t sure which to pick.  They have no knowledge of tenants’ rights and no caring adult advocating for them.

These roadblocks can feel overwhelming to young adults newly entering the world.  The young adults who keep in touch with us share stories of feeling defeated, behind the eight ball, ill-prepared, drowning.  It can trigger depression and anxiety, reinforce internal monologues kids often carry about being worthless or stupid, and makes them feel very alone. 

There is curriculum to help teach life skills.  Preparing Adolescents for Young Adulthood (PAYA) is designed to educate youth in care in various domains of adult life.  Foster parents and caseworkers become certified to teach each module.  However, if a module was only taught once and never reinforced or integrated into a teen’s daily routine, it probably isn’t going to emerge from the recesses of a youth’s brain in years to come.  Young adults falter and stumble with these adult tasks.  For most kids, they call their parents (possibly crying, if memory serves) and Mom and Dad help straighten out the error.  For kids exiting foster care, however, the safety net is minimal or non-existent.  Teaching PAYA while kids are in care isn’t enough; permanency is necessary so kids have someone upon whom they can rely (please see “2AM People”, where we previously discussed this topic).

How We Can Help

There are lots of ways to help young adults who are aging out or have aged out of foster care.  Here are a few of our ideas:

  • Permanency: Just because a child ages out of care, does not mean they are ready to go it alone.  At any age, we all need our support network.  Every young adult who exits foster care should do so with a team of people, a fistful of phone numbers, a set of arms they can turn to for a hug.  Whether it is a former foster parent, a former teacher, or an agency worker, every young adult should know who they can call and how they can contact that person.  Whether it is to go with them to an appointment or just to call for advice, that needs to be part of every child’s story.  If you aren’t a foster parent, try to find ways to connect with foster youth in your community and be that person for a child.  Not sure where to begin?  Ask us!
  • Set Up for Success:  When youth move out and into dorms or apartments, they typically don’t have all of the odds and ends needed to set up house.  I vividly remember my sister moving halfway across the country as a young adult and my dad packing a roadside safety kit, tool kit, and flashlight in her car.  Who is packing that in an aging-out child’s car?  Who is making sure they remember to buy batteries?  Who is reminding them to get a dustpan and broom, Band-Aids, or scissors?  Moreover, is anyone packing a housewarming gift for them?  As a community, we can all contribute!  This past week, we did just that.  One of our young ladies moved out on her own.  We created an Amazon Wishlist, posted it, and you, our Caring Community, stepped up.  Dish towels, a fan, bedding, silverware, pots and pans, and more were all donated, packed up, and presented to her.  *You may have thought a comet flew by at 11AM on Thursday morning, but that was just her, smiling and welling up and feeling loved.  We can do that for every young person!
  • Checking In:  What does that mean???  If a young person starts working in your office, going to your school, attending your house of worship, etc, give them a little extra attention.  Take them under your wing in some way.  Maybe they are a former foster youth, maybe they are new to the area.  Either way, open the lines of communication.  Invite them over for dinner.  Help them find roots, find their people.  Let them know if they have any questions or need a hand (putting together Ikea furniture, fixing a leaky faucet, finding a reputable mechanic), you’re happy to help.  Extending hospitality and support can be life-saving for someone who feels very alone. 
  • Agency Check-Ins:  Agencies, just because a young person is no longer on your roster doesn’t mean you can’t remind them that you are still in their corner!  What if you called a week after a youth left, then a month, then three months, then six months?  Send a card on their birthday (hello, Outlook reminders!), for the holidays, or just because!  This can remind a young person that they are remembered, they matter, and you care. 
  • Care Packages: It doesn’t have to cost much, but who wouldn’t appreciate getting an unexpected box filled with some essentials (tissues, a magnet notepad, a pack of pens, a favorite candy, a note of encouragement)?  Imagine getting this after a tough day, a lonely day.  It could mean everything.  An individual, agency, or group can commit to this.
  • Alumni Get-Togethers: This can be done by individuals, groups, or agencies!  Set up a foster care alumni group!  Host every three months.  Kids can come back, be guaranteed a meal, maybe sit down with people they know (or are getting to know) and problem solve (“Hey, did you want help with your resume?  Bring it along, Buddy, I’ll help look it over.  We’re going to get you that job!”), and just make or maintain connections. 

Changing the Statistics

With bits of effort from multiple partners in the community, change is possible.  The dismal outcomes can change.  A history as a foster child does not mean that a young person cannot succeed.  We just need to remember that we committed to being this young person’s family when they entered care and need to maintain that commitment to their success as a young adult.    

If you are interested in becoming a foster parent or finding out how you can help, please contact us today.  #OpenHeartsOpenHomes #CaringCommunity #FosterHopeFosterCare


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Rachel has been a part of the JRI team since January, 2000. For over 20 years, Rachel has been working in the field of human services assisting families with accessing and navigating services. Rachel received her Bachelors degree in psychology and Masters Degree in Public Administration from Bridgewater State University. She was promoted in July 2005 to Family Networks Program Director where she closely worked with the Department of Children Families for 10 years ensuring that children and families received the highest quality of individualized services ranging from community based through residential care. Rachel is very dedicated to helping the individuals she works with and is committed to improving the lives of children and families. Rachel’s passion for creative service programming inspires her in her role as JRI Service Navigator.