At Risk: Aging Out of the Foster Care System

Today in the US there are approximately 428,000 minors in the foster care system, and nearly 112,000 are waiting for adoption. For many of these children an adoptive family will never materialize, especially if the child is older, is a teenager, or has health issues that may make placement especially difficult due to a lack of qualified or willing foster parents. At the age of 18, and in some states 21, these children will no longer be wards of the state, and they will be cast out to fend for themselves despite the fact that they often have no life skills and no support system that can catch them if they fall.


Sobering Data Regarding Teens and Adoption

Each year the system fails over 20,000 children who will not find homes and will be left without a support system and often without anyone who cares about them or any skills with which to make it on their own. Older children and teens aged 15 to 18 have been statistically shown to have lower adoption rates and to have longer waits before they are adopted than younger children. Recent data has shown that the number of children in foster care is increasing, and as this number grows so does the need for adoptive homes and caring foster families who will truly care about their welfare and their future outcomes.


Projected Outcomes for Former Foster Children

When it comes to the future of former foster children who have aged out of the system, the numbers are grim. These youths are less likely to graduate from high school or to attend college, and even the rates of GED certificates are significantly lower in this demographic. Another problem is medical care. It can be difficult for these former foster children to navigate the healthcare system, and many of these individuals suffer from trauma from abuse in their homes of origin as well as their foster homes that they are desperately in need of treatment for, often leaving them with issues that will make it even harder for them to transition into adulthood.


What You Can Do to Help

There are many ways you can help children from aging out of foster care. Studies show that approximately 50% of Americans believe that children are in the foster care system because there is something wrong with them or because they have done something wrong. This is simply not true, and in fact the vast majority of these children have ended up in care through no fault of their own. You can also challenge the policies of organizations that are failing to find homes for these children, demand accountability from those who make policies, and contact your state and local government representatives to demand to know what is being done. And, of course, you can always consider becoming a foster parent and taking in an at-risk child yourself.

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