Aging Out

Making the transition to adulthood on their own

April Handler, 20, is a former foster child. Since she left the foster care system, she has been living in friends’ houses. Today, she stays in a shelter.

On certain nights, Handler said she had to sleep on the subway or walk through the city the entire night until the sun came up. “Sometimes, it’s just not that easy,” she said.

April Handler, 20

Handler is one of the 3,000 young adults who experience homelessness within six months after exiting the foster care system, according to Dr. Amy Dworsky’s investigation for the Midwest Evaluation of the Adult Functioning of Former Foster Youth. Homelessness hits 12 percent of the 26,000 young adults who leave the system each year when they turn 18, or, in some states including New York, 21.

“Foster kids are not prepared to be able to support themselves and make the transition to adulthood on their own, they don’t have a financial or emotional support system, or someone they can turn to or rely on when they have a problem,” said Dworsky. “Middle class kids can go back to live with Mom and Dad,” she said, “but it isn’t really an option for [former foster kids].”

Sharabia Wilson, 18

Sharabia Wilson, 18, is still in care and lives with her foster mother in Queens. She already worries about the day she will have to age out. “If you feel you have nobody, where do you go? You go in the streets, and you’re homeless now,” said Wilson. “You can’t turn to your friends because they’re in the system, you can’t turn to your birth mother because they took you away from her and she moved on with her own life, you can’t turn to your foster mother because she’s got no room for you and she’s got a new kid who she needs the money for. So if you made no connection while in care, who do you turn to?”

Youth advocates to prepare foster young adults

If these young adults were close to at least one adult while in foster care, whether it is a family member or a non-relative, their estimated odds of becoming homeless would be reduced by 68 percent, according to a Partners for Our Children study conducted by Amy Dworsky and Mark Courntney at the University of Washington.

Yet not all foster children have the chance to develop a close relationship with an adult. Because there are not enough families for all of them, the majority of children and teenagers are placed in group homes, and therefore are even less likely to develop relationships with adults who could continue to provide support after they leave foster care.

In order to combat homelessness among former foster children, advocates for Lawyers for Children visit foster homes all year long. They talk and raise awareness about available housing, employment, and educational opportunities and programs to those who are about to age out. “We want to make sure that these kids are aware of all the options that are available to them and that would prevent them from becoming homeless,” said Freedman. “Each kid should be ready to live independently before he or she ages out.”

An uphill battle for everyone

In recent years, Congress has offered all states partial reimbursement in order for young adults to remain in foster care until they turn 21. But because of the high costs and the dull current economy, not all states are willing to do so. Advocates like Dworsky think that it is a necessary step in order to assist foster teenagers and young adults in achieving self-sufficiency after they age out of the system.

However, those who do find a stable home after leaving care still encounter an uphill battle adjusting to the real world. “More than 25 percent of former foster kids who were never homeless did face difficulties finding stable housing and experienced at least three moves within 14 months after exiting care,” said Dworsky.

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