Aging Out of Foster Care System
A study issued in May 2013 by the Jim Casey Youth Opportunities Initiative shows that, on average, for every young person who ages out of foster care, taxpayers and communities pay $300,000 in social costs like public assistance, incarceration, and lost wages to a community over that person’s lifetime. Do the math and you can conservatively estimate that this problem incurs almost $8 billion in social costs to the United States every year.
It’s time to do something. The case for investing in youth aging out of foster care is a powerful one. Major savings are not only possible, but they are achievable in the relatively near term. The most costly outcomes — and the ones that hurt young people the most — come as a result of events, decisions, and behaviors that occur within a few years or even within days of leaving foster care, like becoming homeless or dropping out of school. For many of these youth, the challenges that start in their teen years and early 20s, such as academic failure or unplanned pregnancies, continue throughout the rest of their lives.
The Jim Casey Youth Opportunities Initiative is a national initiative of the Annie E. Casey Foundation.
On any day, there are about 500,000 children and youth in the foster care system – through no fault of their own. They have been removed from their parents because they have been abused, abandoned, neglected, or exploited. These traumatized, emotionally fragile children are in dire need of sanctuary, stability, and security. Instead, kids in foster care change families, schools, and communities with appalling frequency. Two-thirds move seven or more times while in foster care. Siblings are often separated. Vital records are often lost or misplaced. Education is almost always delayed and disrupted. Life on the move – without parents to provide continuity and a sense of connection – leaves these kids particularly ill-equipped for the transition to adulthood. Every year, about 20,000 young people exit or “age out” of the foster care system, typically at age 18. The system, and whatever it provided, simply disappears. These youth are on their own, virtually penniless, with no place to call home. How do former foster care kids fare as adults?
Conservative studies find one in five young adults aging out of foster care 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 one in four will have experienced post-traumatic stress disorder at twice the rate of United States war veterans. And too often, many are at risk of moving back into government systems -- from juvenile centers to prison.
There is a cycle of violence and helplessness innate in the lives of the hundreds of thousands of children in the U.S. foster care system. And yet millions of Americans are unaware that thousands of children remain in this cycle, and those charged with their protection fail to commit to better solutions for educational and vocational support, employment, life skills training and secure homes.