Foster children don't 'age out' of need for help, guidance

Monday, November 30, 2009

Spending time with family during Thanksgiving and Christmas can be stressful, but what if you didn't have anywhere to go?

Zachary Reid of the Richmond (Va.) Times-Dispatch recently did a story about kids who are "aging out" of the foster care system.

When these young people turn 18 -- 19 in Nebraska -- they might find themselves without a home and any family or state support.

"What those children need and deserve is not what they have traditionally received," Reid wrote.

What he found is scary.

Twenty-five percent of teens who aged out of the system wound up in jail within two years, according to a report from the Pew Charitable Trusts.

More than 20 percent became homeless, and only 3 percent of those who had been through foster care earned a four-year college degree, far below the 28 percent of the general population who do.

It the child's in a legitimate school or training program and is working, he or she can continue to receive some state benefits -- mostly rent and tuition assistance -- until age 21. If they're not the college type, they're released from whatever program they're in, Reid said. "Kind of like any other kid moving out of their home, except they don't have a home to return to in case things don't work out." That's where the homeless problem quickly starts coming into play, he said.

While they're in school, they have some hope of a future, but once they leave, there's a good chance they'll wind up chronically unemployed or underemployed and put a strain on social-service spending at all levels.

Nebraska's safe haven fiasco put the spotlight on the need for effective tools for dealing with troubled youth, and we've used this space before to make pleas for foster and adoptive parents.

Reid's story only reinforces the importance they can play.

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