For young adults who have aged out of foster care at eighteen, the future can look very bleak. So what will help these disenfranchised youths create a successful life after foster care?
Help them find a “natural” mentor
Youth aging out of foster care often lack a permanent adult connection. Having an adult mentor can help ex-foster-care youth make better, healthier life decisions and safely navigate their way into adulthood. According to a professional journal article in Social Work Today, mentoring youths can promote resiliency as they prepare to exit foster care. The article goes on to explain that “natural” mentoring — mentoring by a nonparental, caring adult from the youth’s existing social network — may be more effective than programmatic mentoring (formal mentors assigned to youths through programs like Big Brother, Big Sister). So when these kids self-select a teacher, coach or pastor as a mentor, they may enjoy better outcomes.
Help them attend college
Without any real adult connections, who is talking to these kids about the importance of going to college? Who is helping them sort through the complex process of visiting colleges, applying to colleges, selecting a college, obtaining financial assistance and securing housing? Imagine trying to do that at 18 years old with no adult help whatsoever. It’s a daunting task. So is it any wonder that 50% of these kids will be unemployed? Or that 60% of males will go on to be convicted of a crime (http://www.projectmmh.org/about.html)? Organizations like Fostering Advocates Arizona, Foster Care to Success and The Jim Casey Initiative work to help ex-foster-kids make the difficult transition.
We created the Blavin Scholars program to do what we can to give these kids a fighting chance. Our program offers so much more than just college tuition and housing. Our Blavin Scholars receive a host of support services to ensure support, guidance and mentorship throughout their college experience.
Work to raise the age of emancipation
The typical age of emancipation or “aging out” of foster care has always been 18, but the federal Fostering Connections to Success and Increasing Adoptions Act of 2008 gave states the option of raising the emancipation age to 21. Sadly, only a few states have been able to make this change because most are struggling to meet the needs of older foster youth. In addition, many young adults voluntarily leave foster care at 18 even though they are not ready to live on their own as adults. Allowing these kids to remain in foster care for three more years could dramatically change their outcomes as adults. We can raise our collective voice to our state governments; asking them to help these kids in this important way.
Each year, close to 25,000 kids “age out” of foster care in America. Their likelihood of being homeless, unemployed or incarcerated is very high compared to their peer groups. By mentoring these kids, helping them attend college and encouraging states to raise the emancipation age, we can positively impact the lives and futures of so many disenfranchised kids.