No One Ages Out: Housing for Youth Aging Out of Care

Amid the many youth aging out of foster care, there are individuals who struggle daily to overcome the challenges of aging out. In 2011, almost 900 youth were between the ages of 18 and 21 years old and had aged out of care in New York City. Maureen (not her real name) is one of them.

Hard working and responsible, Maureen works full-time as a last-night cashier at a fast food restaurant on Manhattan’s Upper East Side. Thanks to her foster mother’s caring and supportive home environment, she was able to graduate high school and enroll in college; although she recently took off a semester to save money.

When Maureen aged out, she left her foster parent and returned to her grandmother, who had originally abandoned her to foster care. When a youth’s foster care maintenance payment is no longer provided by New York City, he or she will often have to find a new place to live.

A youth will have to leave their foster home or residential setting, unless granted an exception from city policy, have secured their own apartment (public or supportive housing, or private housing) or been discharged to a family member’s home, which they can move in to right away.

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For Maureen, her housing stability fell apart within months of returning to her grandmother. One day, “I come back home (to her grandmother’s house), all my stuff is packed,” she explains. ”The only reason why I went to my grandmother was because she felt alone at her house…but when I get there it’s just hell. Hell, hell, hell, hell.”

After numerous years of foster care and the experience of aging out, Maureen’s relationship upon being reunited with her grandmother was unstable.

Maureen explains: “She’s like, ‘oh, don’t use my address for nothing.’ That means I can’t get my meds. I can’t get social security… After like three months she like, ‘ohh, pay me $20 a week for rent.'”

Shortly after, her grandmother made her leave the house and with nowhere to go, she ended up in an emergency homeless shelter.

Maureen’s story of homelessness can be tied to New York City’s shortcomings in providing adequate housing options and aftercare services for youth aging out of care. These are the major findings of the Federation of Protestant Welfare Agencies (FPWA)’s recently released a report, “Keeping Foster Youth off the Streets: Improving Housing Outcomes for Youth that Age Out of Care in New York City.”

Obstacles and Solutions

Youth have trouble adjusting to independence after spending so much time in a rigid, structured system. It is estimated that between 18-26 percent of New York City foster youth become homeless. On any night, former foster youth can be found couch-surfing or sleeping on the streets, park benches, and shelters.

Within three years as many as 231 youths, who aged out in 2011, are likely to enter a homeless shelter. This does not include the youth temporarily staying on the couch of someone they know or sleeping on the streets.

Private agencies offer programs to prepare youth to live on their own. While some youth take advantage of independent skills training workshops and support services, others resist, saying the workshops are not useful.

Aged out youth frequently receive ineffective preparations in spite of detailed state regulations, a well-organized city plan, a complex reporting system for providers, specialized housing services and targeted permanency programs. They usually lack independent living skills, are under educated, unemployed, and without adult figures to depend upon financially.

Bureaucracy and funding limitations create roadblocks in the housing application process. For the truly dedicated and committed caseworkers, preparing youth to age out requires resources, personal attention and time to build relationships in order to engage at-risk youth. Due to increasing demands and low salaries the high rate of caseworker turnovers makes it increasingly difficult to assist youth.

Despite the city’s regulations to ensure housing before youth age out, youth often end up homeless because of their inability to find a permanent home. Even those discharged to families frequently slide back into unstable environments with unprepared caregivers and dysfunctional or unstable family members.

Of the youth lucky enough receive public housing, many are evicted for not paying rent after losing their job or public assistance, engaging in inappropriate activity or having behavioral problems. As a result, they too struggle unsuccessfully to maintain their housing.

The city’s child welfare system does not provide funding for aftercare services. Some agencies have used private funding to create aftercare services; however, very few of these programs exist.

Hope for change for this vulnerable and high-risk population lies in a network that would bring together resources from the following entities: he foster care system, public housing system, public health system, public assistance, public homeless shelters, youth and family programs, public schools and universities, the public workforce system, and grassroots youth and family programs.

Homelessness comes with a cost. Besides the waste of lives, its costs can be calculated in the millions of dollars in terms of crime, prison and re-entry, public assistance, the use of homeless shelters, Medicaid and other social services.

There is significant social return and economic savings that will result from investment in the reduction of homelessness amongst youth aging out of care.

Noah Franklin is a Senior Policy Analyst at the Federation of Protestant Welfare Agencies (FPWA).

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3 Comments

  1. Hi there, I was a foster mom and I loved it .
    I need to know exactly where do I go in my area
    now to house age out fosters. I live in Binghamton,
    New York, in 3 bedroom house and 2 baths.
    Yes this house can really use some age out fosters.
    Please be so kind as to letting me know where
    exactly or who do I contact to make this happen.
    Once again thank you Maria

  2. This article did a wonderful job laying out the general process of aging-out of foster care, across the United States, and why the negative stigmas, statistics, and predispositions are not the fault of the young adult.

    With that said, I feel that the solution is a little off. Throughout years of advocacy for this population and trying to create additional advocacy for them, I have ran across many from the general public, who tend to focus on the public resources that this article is referring to, as solutions. Unfortunately, their attitude is negative and misguided. I have often heard this line from others, when referring to their potential advocacy of transitioning foster youth…..”Well if I am already paying for them to use public resources, then why should I worry about paying more now.”

    I realize that there are intentions to promote advocacy for aged-out foster youth, with the communication of the negative outcomes of foster care (homelessness, unemployment, drugs, etc), however this serves as one of the biggest reasons why the “Foster Care Stigma” is placed on these young adults

    The communication of negative outcomes and how foster care impacts the lives of foster youth is a Catch 22. When citizens that do not personally know foster youth hear these statistics and perceive a high public dependence, they are not likely to give these young adults access to employment, social interactions, and other rights of passages into adulthood, that most take for granted. Unfortunately, this is why there is still a need for articles like this.

    As far a my solution to this….I am working on initiatives that build on the inherent leadership potential of former foster youth. It is true that there are injustices and negatives of foster care that can not be ignored, but that must be left to the child abuse prevention and advocacy for younger foster youth. We are indirectly limiting teenage foster youth, when we connect them to these limitations, these burdens, and these stigmas. We are creating the wrong impressions of how these young adults are uniquely qualified to impact their communities.

    I firmly believe that every former foster youth has the potential to be a leader. How else could you survive the trauma of foster care, without gaining some sense of important leadership skills, such as: humility, resiliency, passion, and independence. Connected with professionals and other positive connections in their community, these young adults would have the opportunity to successfully cope with their transition to adult life and nurture their inherent leadership skills, to opportunities to reach sustainable careers and impactful involvement in their communities.

    Building this framework, built on empathetic and informed positive community connections, former foster youth will have opportunities to decrease their use of public resources, to little or none.

    Solution: Promoting the Leadership potential of current and former foster youth.

    • Hi all,

      I work with youth aging out of the foster care system in Miami, FL. I am wondering if anyone knows or can point me toward resources that explain the regulations for youth aging out of the system in NY, particularly NYC. Much appreciated,

      Ilana Drucker

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