“Aging-out”: When a youth is discharged from the foster care system at the age of 18.
Realistically, “aging-out” is going to be a different experience for every youth in the system. Some may have a nearly flawless transition into adulthood. Some may squeeze by, surviving on their own determination and wit. But for many, it will be characterized by a constant threat of homelessness, incarceration, and the inability to get from point A to point B on their life road map. The odds of success are low for these youth: 20% experience homelessness, 25% are incarcerated, 58% graduate from high school, and only 3% earn a college degree[i]. When compared to the national average, it is astounding how this pool of potential can be overlooked. These youth are the next generation of lawyers, small business owners, nurses, and administrators, as well as the future parents of the following generation. They are your son and daughter’s best friends and your neighbors. With guided access to resources and mentorship, these youth can go on to reach their full potential and overcome the statistics. There is no rule stating that they have to be a standard product of their circumstances. With help, they can mold their futures into whatever they want.
Few states allow youth to voluntarily sign up to stay in care until the age of 21 (we will discuss in a later post why many youth choose not to). But for those states which do not allow an extended stay, an eighteenth birthday represents a pivotal point in these youths’ lives. It represents the day that they are handed a small stipend and a garbage bag of their few belongings. There are programs out there which are designed to help the youth with basic starters, such as a place to stay and some food in the fridge, but in my opinion this is not enough. Don’t get me wrong, I think these programs are great and we need more of them, but I feel that in order to be successful, these youth need more than that. They need the internal drive, confidence, and mindset of self-sufficiency in order to survive on their own. They need the ability to identify their needs, seek out resources, and solve problems by themselves. At Partnered for Success, we aim to foster that ability.
At the end of the day, there often isn’t a safety net in the case of failure. If they can’t pay rent, they are evicted. If they can’t afford groceries, they go hungry. These are the hurdles we can help prepare the youth to overcome. Then there are the hurdles that we can’t take away. These are the hurdles that only allow me to genuinely love and care about each and every individual that participates in our program. For the youth, this means facing the fact that some years they may spend Christmas morning by themselves, that they probably won’t be writing “thank you mom and dad” on their graduation cap, and that they might have to walk themselves down the aisle at their wedding. This means not having a place to go when the dorms shut down over summer break at college because their dad is living out of a motel with his current girlfriend and not being able to call mom about the cute boy who sits behind them in Psych 101 because she is on bender again.
Partnered for Success aims to build more than a network of amazing resources, it aims to provide an environment where the youth are encouraged to reach for the stars, where they make lifelong friends, and where the they are connected to people who want to help them make it past the hurdles that can’t be taken away.
Partnered for Success can do its part by helping these youth build the skills necessary to tangibly succeed as young adults and by creating a caring community to support them. You can do your part by opening your hearts and homes to those who haven’t had a family step up for them.
[i] Faherty, John “Mentors Prove a Savior for Foster Children” http://www.azcentral.com/news/articles/2010/01/31/20100131foster0131.html