Foster Care and Homelessness
by: Tess Pickering
AmeriCorps Vista Communication Coordinator
You turn 18 and the world says “Ok you’re an adult now.” For more privileged individuals this can be an inspiring time where they go to college, live independently from their immediate families, or simply follow their dreams; However, for children who have grown up in the foster care system, it indicates the maximum age that a state will support them. In some cases, these individuals are given paperwork for their birthday and are brought straight from their foster homes to homeless shelters. According to the National Longitudinal Study of Adolescent to Adult Health (respondents ages 18–26) approximately 23% of young people who age out of foster care will experience homelessness by the age of 21.
Homelessness also costs taxpayers millions annually. Due to the many needs and services the government provides for alleviating homelessness, (including housing, mental health services, physical health services) it is difficult to estimate the total amount of funding that goes into these programs; However, based on a study conducted by the government research program Datalab, the city of New York alone spent $3.2 billion on homelessness programs in 2019. Therefore, preventing homelessness and providing long term solutions for this population would be fiscally beneficial.
The relationships and connections the recently “aged-out” youths hold is essential to their success in post-foster care life. Policies meant to address this issue should facilitate permanent connections with families and cultivate a network of positive and supportive relationships with mentors, coaches, employers and any other permanent figures. Making foster parents or supportive figures aware of the trauma and life the youth has experienced is an important factor in creating emotional bonds and securing permanency. A further way to remove the disincentive of permanency in families is to provide families with more financial support if they decide to adopt this person into their lives permanently, rather than providing more benefits for less permanent fostering programs. (Aime E casey, 2019). Currently, our system does not reflect this logic and actually incentivizes the opposite.
Furthermore, a child's opportunity to meet age-appropriate goals and opportunities are essential to enable growth emotionally, mentally, physically, socially and academically. People in foster care often don’t have the opportunity to enjoy learning in a regulated environment, build a savings account, plan for college, or enjoy the mundane activities experienced by people who are not in foster care. This creates a significant barrier that makes it more important that a child meets age appropriate expectations, milestones and goals so that they do not fall behind in any aspect of life. A youth in foster care should have the ability to get tutoring in certain subjects, join a sports league, or pursue their creative interests that could eventually inspire a career and lead to a stable future.
Additionally, making sure families, programs, and caregivers are made aware of the Family First Prevention Act and trained properly on how to timely implement it. This program provides tuition waivers to youths aging out of the system, fighting debt through loan forgiveness programs, and aiding in the enrollment to higher education programs. Helping these youths to develop in their careers, teaching financial literacy, and assisting in tasks such as opening a bank account prepares them for a successful future where they are able to function as non-homeless experiencing individuals.
In conclusion, the transition to adulthood is commonly understood to be a gradual process that spans ages 18 through 25, but for youths who aged out of foster care it can be an abrupt process that they are unprepared for. Ways to combat this experience include fostering permanent and supportive relationships, giving a child the opportunity to reach milestones and explore their interests, and finally, encouraging a post secondary education by aiding in the application and enrollment process, including financially. These factors are important building blocks of creating equal opportunities for youths and have them reach their full potential.