What Happens When Growing Up Means ‘Aging Out’?

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Each year, some 25,000 children “age out” of the foster care system in the U.S. A process known officially as “emancipation,” aging out more often means the loss of stability for young people unprepared for living as adults.

In a no-punches-pulled report entitled “The Human, Social, and Economic Cost of Aging Out of Foster Care,” here’s how the National Council for Adoption describes the experience for many young people…

“Emancipation is a common fate for the 400,000 American youth languishing in foster care. After years of bouncing from one foster home to another, often feeling lonely and unwanted, too many youth in care long for the day when they will turn 18 (21, in some states) and age out of the system that has failed them.”

The report adds, however: “But many may not realize how ill-prepared for adulthood they are without…support or a permanent family. Youth that age out of foster care are far more likely than their peers to become homeless, dependent on welfare, turn to drugs, or be incarcerated.”

The National Council for Adoption backs up its argument with supporting data – 1 in 5 will become homeless after 18; at 24, only half will be employed; less than 3% will have earned a college degree; 71% of women will be pregnant by 21; and 1 in 4 will have experienced post-traumatic stress disorder at twice the rate of American war veterans.

Aging out of foster care without being fully prepared for life on one’s own is a national tragedy on many levels, but it is one that many Junior Leagues have addressed in a variety of ways.

This can involve providing hands-on life skills training and mentoring…recruiting community leaders and experts who can helpcollecting support assets under one roofhelping to provide college textbooks…and filling suitcases with life necessities, including bedding, pots & pans, cleaning supplies.

The need is large, but volunteer-driven initiatives can be key elements in meeting that need…at a human level.