Today, the nation’s foster care system is overpopulated and rife with issues. With more than 437,000 children in care nationally, federal, state, and local child welfare agencies are overwhelmed with the task of providing homes for these children – many of whom have been subjected to some form of maltreatment by their natural families. Biological parents are also unable or unwilling to care for these children for a myriad of reasons including, but not limited to, drug or alcohol abuse, mental illness, or incarceration. When children and youth are confirmed as having been victimized by abuse or neglect, they are legally removed from their birth families and placed under the care and custody of the state-run child welfare agencies.
The numbers are heartbreaking with more than a third of these children being between the tender ages of 1 and 5. More than half of them have spent over a year away from their families, and many of them will experience the trauma of multiple placements (AFCARS, 2017).
Unfortunately, many young adults who have spent time in foster care do not return home to their families, nor do they become connected to a safe, loving, and permanent home. When these young adults turn 18 or graduate from high school, whichever happens first, they are considered to have become emancipated from the system, or “aged out.” These youth, as compared to those in the general population, are less likely to earn a high school diploma, and more likely to be unemployed and dependent on public assistance. Many find themselves incarcerated or homeless.
Each year, 117,794 young adults in foster care turn 18 and age-out without legal or permanent connections (AFCARS, 2017). They suddenly go from being a part of “the system” to being on their own without a family, and without the skills to live independently. They do not have access to basic family networks, community resources, employment, housing, health insurance, or other critical assets that are needed to successfully establish independence.
AFCARS – Some states have extended care through the ages of 19, 20, or 21.