About 30,000 kids will age-out of the foster care system each year (age 18 in most states, 21 in others).(1) Usually these kids get little or no support; they must simply make their way in the world. (How well would you have done at 18 if you were totally on your own, with no home or parent to fall back on, no financial help? Well, this is how the foster kids do:
- 24 percent have no high school diploma at age 23/24. (1)
- 52 percent do not have a job at age 23/24. (1)
- 89 percent of kids who age out of foster care will end up addicted, homeless, arrested, in jail or pregnant within a year. (2)
- 84 percent will have become a parent within 5 years. (3)
- 70 percent of prisoners are from foster care. (2)
- If a child can’t read by 3rd grade, there is a 90 percent chance they will drop out of school. States like Florida and Arizona are planning their prison building based on 3rd grade reading statistics, because dropouts are much more likely to end up in jail. (2)
I know that last stat isn’t technically a foster care one, but I found it disturbing. And obviously kids with family disruptions or in abusive or neglected home situations are less likely to get the help they need to learn to read.
So do these bad outcomes mean we shouldn’t do foster care? NO! But it does mean we have to work for adoption as much as possible so kids are in permanent homes. It means supporting the foster parent so they can continue to help the child even after the government-sanctioned relationship has ended. And it means we need to find ways to connect with and support kids who will be aging out of the system and will not be staying on with their foster families. I don’t know how to do that. Where do you find them? What is the best way to support them and help them become self sufficient?
How do you help them deal with the pain and make wise choices when they often lash out at you like a wounded animal? The trauma that led a kid to be in foster care will scar his or her life forever, but it doesn’t have to destroy it. It will take counseling and support for years to bring the healing needed to live on their own in a healthy way.
So what to do?
First, pray. Pray for eyes to see hurting kids. Maybe they aren’t even in foster care yet. Maybe you can mentor them or their parents so they never have to end up there.
Second, decide what you can do. Can you foster and plan to take the extra step and support a child through young adulthood? Could you befriend a foster family or child? If you don’t know any, maybe you could contact a foster care agency and offer your services, especially to children who are aging out. Or check if Foster Care Alumni of America have opportunities to support kids who are headed out on their own. Will you ask God to show you a youth who needs a friend and maybe a helping hand or a listening ear? God has blessed Les and me with great relationships through “informal foster care” and adoption over the years.
Third, do it. This is, sadly, where it often breaks down for me. I feel badly, but then life happens and I move on. But the kids don’t. Am I willing to act on whatever God shows me this time?
Thirty thousand kids this year alone need someone to invest in them. Will we be that someone for someone?