The 18th Year: Challenges for Youth Aging Out of Foster Care

This year 23,000 youths will turn 18 while in foster care, aging out of their system of support. While society tends to look at this transitional stage in life as an exciting threshold to cross into adulthood, statistics tell us our youth aging out of foster care are facing a harrowing battle to thrive. Their livelihood and opportunities to succeed are fragile and dangerously hanging in the balance.

Of the youth aging out of foster care this year:

  • 4,600 will instantly become homeless
  • 11,500 will develop a substance dependence
  • 70% of the girls will become pregnant before age 21
  • 11,500 will have gainful employment by age 24
  • 690 will become college graduates
  • 25% of them will suffer PTSD

Close your eyes, and think back to your 18th birthday and finish the following sentences:

When I turned 18 I lived at _______________ with __________________.

When I turned 18 my food was provided by ______________________.

When I turned 18 I felt _________________________ coming home every night.

When I turned 18 _________________________ encouraged my dreams and goals for the future.

When I turned 18 I wanted to become a/an ____________________________.

For the majority of us, we can recount our 18th birthday as a time of great expectation and anticipation for our future. Some of us were well prepared and felt ready to join the world as an adult, either working or entering college, the military, or trade school. Most of us, whether we left home or stayed, needed the love and support of our family to help us transition into the world as adults. A great deal of us had someone, whether our biological parents or another caring adult, to help guide and nurture us into adulthood.

The majority of youth aging out of foster care do not have the safety and support of family to help them thrive and are essentially on their own. These youth are often faced with a number of challenges that create barriers for their continued success. For example, if they find a job they have to manage transportation, and other work related costs while learning life lessons associated with working—lunch money, work clothes/uniforms, understanding workplace etiquette, and learning how to build meaningful relationships. It does not end with employment, youth looking for a stable home face a myriad of challenges—establishing credit, security deposits, turning on utilities, purchasing furnishings, and securing food.

At each step towards independence, youth aging out of foster care are no different than other young adults—they need continued financial and emotional support, and help learning life skills that promote independence. The only difference is these former foster youth often lack the nurturing and supportive family systems their peers enjoy. And this difference, for a number of our youth, can make the difference between life and death, success or a lifetime of challenges.

We know, the statistics and facts are distressing. But we also know that every adult has the power to change the life of one youth in their community. It only takes one adult to alter the life and path of a youth, and we want to empower you to be the change our youth need.

This month, while we champion and celebrate the young graduates among us, Walden wants to share practical ways to help support a youth aging out of foster care in your community. We believe all of us have the power to make a difference, and be the one caring adult in a youth’s life.

Join us tomorrow as we discuss Actions of Impact: How to Impact Foster Youth Aging Out.