Meet Aging-Out Foster Youths Halfway

What happens to foster children who ‘age out’ of care and are still unable to overcome the circumstances of their past?

Richard Wexler, former executive director of the now-dormant National Coalition for Child Protection Reform, states in his article “80 Percent Failure” that in the Northwest Foster Care Alumni Study conducted by the Casey Family Program, it clearly shows that the foster care system fails 80 percent of the time. So in other words, we are failing 80 percent of children in the foster care system.

It is said that approximately 26,000 foster children age out of care every year. So in essence, we know for a fact that every year approximately 20,800 aged out foster children will not have the tools to become successful adults.

What happens to these unfortunate children who have no family to rely on?

Because of the trauma sustained in their biological family environments and the added trauma of the foster care system, we know for a fact that most of them are many years behind emotionally. These are children who do not have the life skills, and often times, the mental capacity to live on their own. So what becomes of these children who are not ready for adult life?

They have NO CHOICE but to find any way possible to survive. Once again, life becomes merely a game of survival. I personally choose to marry at 17, three weeks before I was to ‘age out’, because I was too afraid of homelessness. My brother on the other hand, chose a life of crime. Neither of us had much choice in our decisions, and did whatever it took to merely to survive yet another day.

After many decades, we as a society have finally put the pieces together and have come to the conclusion that former foster children make up a large number of the prison population, human trafficking population, prostitution population, and the drug industry population. This also trickles down to the child neglect/abuser population, domestic violence population, children in foster care population, and the population receiving government aid.

Is this because foster children are ‘bad children’, or is it because ‘WE’ have dropped the ball and have failed ‘OUR’ children? If we don’t like the way our children are turning out, do we turn our heads and continue to let this problem grow larger and larger every day, or do we find a different way to parent our children?

This same report also states that we know for a fact that one third of our foster children are abused by their foster parents. This number does not account for the abuse that happens by merely growing up in the foster care system. If you combine those two numbers, it’s pretty obvious to the naked eye that our foster children don’t stand a chance.

Some say orphanages, or group homes are the answer. Yet, it is a known fact that children in orphanages suffer even greater than foster children suffer. So how do we fix this ever growing problem?

It’s called families. Every child deserves to grow up in a loving family. Every child deserves to have ONE person who loves them unconditionally. That ONE ingredient, family, makes all the difference in the world.

I’ve been there, I know, all I ever wanted was one person I could trust. Yet, there never was that ‘one’ person, and I was a good kid. What about the foster child who is ‘reacting’ out? Foster children don’t act out, they react out.

Only the unconditional love and commitment of family can overtake the hold trauma has on most foster children. I never had the wonderful opportunity of a forever family. Instead at 46 years old, I realized that trauma was still defining my life. Seriously, I woke up one day and realized I had been in a ‘trauma sleep’ for 46 years.

And if we fail at making this connection for foster youths during their adolescence, we certainly have a responsibility to provide a safe place where our former fosters can learn the life skills they were never taught as children. They would benefit from intense trauma therapy, drug rehabilitation, life skill lessons, job skills, and the list goes on and on.

Only then will they have the necessary tools to change the course of their futures. Only then will they not be a constant drain on our economy. Children like my brother costs us billions and billions of dollars, every day.

Why don’t we open halfway houses strictly for former foster youth and equip them with the tools to become successful? Their requirements are different than those who suffer from mental illness. They are NOT mentally ill, they are merely children who were never given the tools necessary to succeed in life. They were never given the help or guidance ordinary children are privy to.

Instead, at 18, we take them to the edge of a cliff and we tell them to jump. And often times, they do.

Helen Ramaglia is a foster alumni who became a foster/adoptive parent. She is the founder and Director of Fostering Superstars, a Congressional Award Winner for her work with foster children and is the author of “From Foster to Fabulous”. She is a popular speaker, trainer and advocate for foster children.

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About Helen Ramaglia 18 Articles
Helen Ramaglia is a foster alumni who became a foster/adoptive parent. She is the founder and Director of Fostering Superstars, a Congressional Award Winner for her work with foster children and is the author of “From Foster to Fabulous”. She is a popular speaker, trainer and advocate for foster children.

5 Comments

  1. As a foster parent for 20years and GAL for 10 years, I agree for the need if halfway houses. As stated above in other comments they are not ready emotionally to move on. Usually 6 mo to a year out they want the opportunity to get on the right track. The major hold up is no legal address, or guidance. They want school, guidance, and a future but they cannot do it alone. They are legal age now so don’t need babysitters, just a chance to move on.

  2. Great article. There’s a program here in San Diego that’s attempting to address this falling behind, and the transition to adulthood. San Pasqual Academy is a residential high school for foster kids, complete with house parents, college prep skills, a stable 4-year environment to help kids catch up before 18. And to show the committment in another way, San Pasqual provides college prep guidance, college scholarships, and also opens its doors during the regular college holidays, so emancipated kids in college have their “high school home” to return to on breaks. It’s a great model… kids have to apply, so they’ve already self-identified as wanting education, safety, structure, and consistency. I haven’t visited there in a couple years; I’ll have to see how they’re doing these days. I think they’ve been operating for about 15 years.

  3. While I think it’s a good idea, I know that because of my experiences with bio family members in halfway houses and because of the general negative associations with halfway houses, I would never live in one. Maybe if they were called something else…

  4. I like the concept, even though I am somewhat unfamiliar with the concept of a “halfway house.” My only knowledge about the concept is that it is a limited living situation for those that need assistance with transition.

    Connie, I agree and disagree with your observation about transitioning youth. Yes, they do want to get away from the “system.” But no, they do not want to get away from those that have shared their pain.

    They tend to confide in others that have been in foster care or have had a rough child hood. Something like this would need to be privatized. The public sector has lined the foster youth’s life with so much red tape and stipulations.

  5. At face value, the half-way house concept would seem like a good alternative. In reality though, my experience as a case worker (and foster parent) was that most kids in the foster care system want to be free of the system as soon as possible. Yes, many come back begging for assistance when the reality of adult living sinks in. But this usually does not happen until after the former foster youth has had a negative experience while trying to make it on their own.

    In some cases, the structure of the military or college can be helpful to youth transitioning out of care. I would like to see more colleges developing on-going support programs for former foster youth.

    Of course, some youth recognize they are ill-equipped to handle adult living and might consider a half-way house option. But my experience has been that most youth want to put distance between themselves and the foster care system. I think that the hard reality faced by foster youth who have aged out has been publicized enough by now that we may see a shift in how youth view continued assistance. With the Fostering Connections legislation, they do now have options of continued foster home care in most states/jurisdictions, even after exiting care.

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