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A new report has shed light on disturbing new data. Young adults are growing old in foster care. They are "aging out" of the system without permanent families.
The report, Time for Reform: Aging Out and On Their Own, found that although the total number of children in foster care has decreased, the number who "age out" of the system has grown by 41% since 1998. In total, more than 165,000 young people aged out of foster care between 1998 and 2005 – nearly 25,000 in 2005 alone. The pdf file of the report can be found here.
"When children are removed from their homes because of abuse or neglect, we, through our government agencies, assume responsibility for their protection and care. We have failed these children if they 'age out' of foster care without a safe, permanent family they can count on," said Jim O'Hara, managing director, health and human services, The Pew Charitable Trusts.
Studies have documented the serious challenges facing many youth who age out of foster care. One in four will be incarcerated within two years of leaving foster care, 1 in 5 will become homeless, only half will graduate from high school, and less than 3 percent receive college degrees.
"I turned 18 a month before I graduated from high school. The day after graduation, I was kicked out of my foster home, where I had been living for nearly two years," said Nicole Dobbins, FosterClub representative, who spoke at the Capitol Hill briefing where the report was released.
Dobbins spent seven years in foster care before aging out. "I was 18, a high school graduate on my way to college in the fall, and homeless," she said.
The ten states with the highest percentages of youth who age out are: Virginia, Maine, Illinois, Tennessee, Vermont, Washington DC, Kansas, Massachusetts, West Virginia, and California. Those states, plus Maryland, New Hampshire, South Carolina, Louisiana, and Ohio all had more than 10% of their total foster care population "age out" of the system without a permanent family.
The report also found that youth who age out of foster care have spent nearly five years in the system. The national average time in foster care for all children and youth is 2.5 years.
"Every child in foster care deserves a family, and the need doesn't end at age 18," said Gary Stangler, executive director of the Jim Casey Youth Opportunities Initiative. "The desire for family is hard-wired in us. These young people know there is no substitute for that unconditional support family provides. Just like all of us, they need someone to turn to as they grow into adults, and our foster care system should be helping them find that family."