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Atherton-Ely 1

Tinnina Atherton-Ely
Ben Henderson
CAS 138T, Section 014
16 April 2014
A New Policy for Aging Out of the Foster Care System
Introduction to the Foster Care System
Hundreds of children everyday are abused, neglected, orphaned and forgotten by their
parents. The foster care system was created to help and provide for these children who have no
one else. Children under the age of 18 who become wards of the state are placed with certified
caregivers or foster parents. Approximately 510,000 children are currently in foster care
(FosterClub). Although foster care was designed to aid these thousands of children, there are
many flaws with the system. There are currently not enough foster families to house all the
children in need, and many children end up never get adopted and end up bouncing around foster
homes and group homes for the rest of their lives. When children turn 18, they have essentially
aged out of the foster care system. The state stops providing for these children and releases
them into the real world. Aging out of the system is probably the biggest problem with foster
care, and it needs to be addressed. In 2013 alone, more than 23,000 children aged out of foster
care (Childrens Rights). Children leaving the foster care system at 18 (some states 21) usually
are not emotionally or financially prepared for an independent life. These youths often do not
finish high school, turn to delinquent activities, become homeless, and face problems for the rest
of their lives (Atkinson). Because of this, policy changes need to be made in the foster care
system to greater prepare youths who aging out for adulthood.

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The Problem of Aging Out
When children age out of the foster care system, they are all alone and are expected to be
completely independent. The state currently does not do enough to prepare these children for the
responsibilities of adulthood. These children have already suffered trauma and tragedy. They
should not have to endure the hardships of adulthood at such a young age. Every year over
20,000 youths age out of the foster care system (FosterClub). These children are released into
the world not prepared to immediately lead an independent adult lifestyle. They often face many
hardships upon emancipation. The transition is abrupt and rough; a child goes from being a part
of the system to being completely on his or her own (Getz). Children are not being emotionally
prepared for this transition. On childrens 18th birthday, they face coming home and being told
that they can no longer live in the foster parents house and the state can no longer provide for
them. The termination of state funding for foster care children is instantaneous (Atkinson).
When the security of state funding suddenly leaves foster care children, they do not react well
(Getz). When they are unrealistically expected to be able to live and succeed on their own at age
18, most children face huge obstacles.
If a foster care child turns 18 and is cut off from state funding before finishing high
school, he or she will most likely not graduate or even think about attending college. While 94
percent of the general population has earned a high school degree or a GED by age 26, only
about 80 percent of foster care children have done so (Childrens Rights). However, when the
safety net of the foster care system is removed, aged out youths face much bigger problems than
getting an education. Former foster care children are more likely to face homelessness,
incarceration, unemployment, and poverty than their peers (Atinkson). Many studies have been
done comparing aged out foster care youths with their general population counterparts:

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The Midwest study, a large-scale longitudinal study by Chaplin Hill, found that
participating former foster care youths were twice as likely as their same age peers to be
unable to pay their rent or mortgage. Another large-scale longitudinal study by the Casey
Family Programs found that more than one-fifth of former foster care youths experienced
homeless for one day or more within a year of aging out (Atkinson 188).
Approximately one in four children will have a run in with the legal system within two years of
leaving foster care, and 71 percent of aging out girls become pregnant by age 21 (Jim Casey
Children aging out of the foster care system are never adopted, never returned to parents
or relatives, and never found a permanent family. These children typically have not formed any
emotional ties and are therefore not emotionally prepared for the lifestyle they are being forced
into at the young age of 18. Many youths after age 18 still require both financial and nonfinancial support from parental figures, but youths aging out of the foster care system are
receiving neither because they are being completely cut off from their sole support system
(Juvenile Law Center). They must obtain self-sufficiency and independence with no family
support. Something has to be done to help children aging out of foster care. They have already
suffered tremendously; they should not have to suffer the burden of adulthood alone at such a
young age.
Policy Change for Aging Out
The problem of unprepared youths aging out of the foster care system needs to be
addressed. All states should increase the aging out age from 18 to at least 21. Children may
leave when they turn 18, but at least they would know that they have backup support for a few
more years if they need it. The foster care system should also be responsible for preparing

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children for college, a job, or living accommodations. Many programs and agencies have been
created to help youths aging out of foster care live a successful and independent adult life. One
of the most successful of these programs is the Jim Casey Youth Opportunities Initiative, and
foster care systems should try and adopt these policies.
The Jim Casey Youth Opportunities Initiative Success Beyond 18 is a program designed
to help youths aging out of foster care face and conquer the hardships of adulthood. This
program aims to reduce the negative outcomes that could occur because of the abrupt transition
to an independent lifestyle. The program specifically focuses on youths between the ages of 15
to 25. There are 18 sites nationwide, and several states are already changing their policies to
help aging out youth with the transition to adulthood.
Success Beyond 18 attempts to do the following with children currently in the foster care
system and youths who have just aged out of the system: find permanent families for youths or
change the age limit to 21, ensure a stable education and support for post-secondary education,
develop ways to teach children about financial savings and help them obtain continuous work
experience, look for safe housing options and transportation access to work and school, extend
heath care covered by the foster care system to at least age 21 and educate youths about physical
and mental health, and provide legal counsel to aid youths in succeeding and planning a future
(Jim Casey Initiative). Some states are beginning to implement some of these policies to make
the transition to adulthood smoother for those aging out. All states should adopt some form of
these policies. By adapting these policies, the foster care system can begin to provide youths
with the support they need when they enter the real world.
States should also consider setting up independent living options for youths aging out of
the foster care system. Independent living options would provide youths with the freedom they

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need to learn and grow in the real world, but the foster care system will still be financially
responsible for the children and health care will still be provided. The state should also help
youths in independent living with attending college, finding a job, and starting a savings account.
The foster care system should be held responsible for preparing children who are going to
age out for an independent and adult life. The system should also look out for children who have
aged out for a brief period of time. States should begin to adopt policies from the Jim Casey
Initiative and create an independent living option for youths who have aged out.
Practicality and Advantages of the Policy
Children aging out of the foster care system need to be prepared better and earlier for
adult life. The measurements listed in the policy change above are realistic and will be effective.
In 2012, Pennsylvania changed its policy to extend the foster care age to 21 and to allow youths
who have left at 18 return to they system if needed; child advocates say that this will improve the
lives of thousands of teenagers in foster care (Callahan). Pennsylvania also had success with
Independent Living services that are specifically designed to aid foster care youths age 18 and
above in practicing their independent living skills while continuing to look for permanent
families for the youths (Juvenile Law Center). Children are looking for support, and many are
afraid of turning 18 because they do not know how to be financially independent. State funds are
set aside for foster care systems. With slightly more funding, all states would easily be able to
provide support for foster care children until the age of 21.
The Jim Casey Initiative has seen much success. Youths who have aged out of the system
and participate in the program are twice as likely to obtain a full-time job and have better
outcomes with health and marriage (Jim Casey Initiative). The advantages of a policy change
are huge. If youths are given the preparation they need for adulthood, they will be much less

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likely to become homeless or incarcerated. Independent living options would be beneficial
because youths could learn to live on their own while still receiving security and financial
support from the foster care system. There are few to no negative effects of creating a policy to
help children aging out of the foster care system.
The policy described above will greatly reduce the problem of under prepared and aging
out foster care children entering the real world too quickly and abruptly; the policy will produce
positive results because it will be changing the lives of thousands of foster care children for the
better. This problem is not only affecting the thousands of youths who age out of the system
every year, but it is also affecting the communities around these youths. Communities are
paying on average $300,000 for social costs (public assistance, incarceration, etc.) per child who
has aged out of the system (Stangler). These communities would save almost $8 billion every
year by helping foster care children before they age out of the system (Stangler). The proposed
policy change needs to be implemented by state legislation because it will be changing the lives
of thousands of teenagers and saving taxpayers a lot of money. The saved money could then be
used to start programs that help youths still in foster care.
If children aging out of the foster care system receive the help and support they need
when facing adulthood, they will have a much greater chance at a successful future. The
proposed policies are a realistic solution. Children in foster care are taken out of horrible
situations and promised a better life. It is therefore the societys duty to extend this promise to
the childs whole life. Children in the foster care system need to be prepared much better for the
obstacles they will face in adult life. Foster care youths have already suffered enough; the
suffering needs to be stopped and should not continue when a child turns 18.

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As clich as it may sound, the children of today are the leaders of tomorrow. Over
510,000 children are in the foster care system and over 20,000 youths are aging out of the system
every year. The youths aging out of the system are currently not being prepared for the
independent and adult lifestyle they abruptly enter when they turn 18. Because of this, aged out
foster care children face much higher rates of homelessness, incarceration, joblessness, and
poverty than their peers in the general population. This problem needs to be addressed, and it
needs to be fixed. States need to implement policies that raise the foster care ages to at least 21,
train still youths in foster for adult responsibilities, and create safety net options such as
independent living programs that allow youths to learn independence while having financial
support. States should follow the policy outlines Jim Casey Youth Opportunities Initiative and
other similar programs because programs like this have had success and policy reforms will work
with positive outcomes. Children in foster care who receive aid when making the transition to
adulthood are more likely to avoid negative outcomes. The foster care system was created to
protect and provide for children who need help. When these children turn 18, they still need
help. Children in the system have already suffered so much trauma and tragedy; this suffering
should not carry over to their adult lives. The foster care system needs to fulfill its promise by
continuing to protect and aid the thousands of children it has saved.

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Works Cited:
Atkinson, Melinda. "Aging Out of Foster Care: Towards a Universal Safety Net for Former
Foster Care Youth." Harvard Civil Rights-Civil Liberties Law Review 43 (2008): 183-88.
Web. 14 Apr. 2015. <>.
Callahan, Marrion. "PA Budget Extends Support to Youth Aging out of Foster Care." Morning
Call 30 July 2012. Web. 14 Apr. 2015. <>.
Getz, Lindsey. "Aging Out Of Foster Care." Social Work Today 1 Mar. 2012. Web. 15 Apr.
2015. <>.
Lemon, Kathy, Alice Hines, and Joan Merdinger. "From Foster Care to Young Adulthood: The
Role of Independent Living Programs in Supporting Successful Transitions." Children
and Youth Services Review 27.3 (2005): 251-70. ScienceDirect. Web. 14 Apr. 2015.
Nicoletti, Angela. "Aging out of Foster Care." Journal of Pediatric and Adolescent Gynecology
20.3 (2007): 205-06. ScienceDirect. Web. 14 Apr. 2015.
Soronon, Rita. "We Are Abandoning Children in Foster Care." CNN. 17 Apr. 2014. Web. 15
Apr. 2015. <>.

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Stangler, Gary. "Aging Out of Foster Care: The Costs of Doing Nothing Affect Us All." The
Huffington Post 27 Sept. 2013. The Blog. Web. 14 Apr. 2015.
"Dependent Youth Aging Out Of Foster Care In Pennsylvania: A Judicial Guide." Juvenile Law
Center 3 (2003): V-4. Juvenile Law Center. Web. 15 Apr. 2015.
"Fact Sheets." Children's Rights. 1 Jan. 2014. Web. 14 Apr. 2015.
"Foster Care Statistics." FosterClub. 1 Jan. 2015. Web. 14 Apr. 2014.
"Success Beyond 18." Jim Casey Youth Opportunities Initiative. 1 Jan. 2015. Web. 14 Apr.
2015. <>.