Foster care shortcomings are a social problem that is systematically forgotten, specifically for the 23,000 youth that age out of foster care, that is, turn 18 without a permanent family and are no longer eligible for government care, each year according to U.S Newswire.
The lack of government commitment and action to this cause has put our communities at risk for an abundance of overlapping economic and social costs.
Article contributed by Georgia Ansley
The most concerning fault is the rate of homelessness for these youth, with one third of aged out youth spending their first night on the streets. Furthermore, 14 to 26 percent of homeless adults in Minneapolis were former foster care participants according to research conducted by the Hennepin County Community Services Department.
The “Housing First Model” suggests that housing might be the most important factor when it comes to self-sufficiency. However “Section 8”, low income housing partially paid for by the government, is one of the most competitive in the State.
Poverty is another consequence commonly associated with aged out youth. A study conducted in the Midwest by the National Association of Counties showed that 40% of former fosters could not afford to buy clothing, 20% were unable to pay rent, and 15% could not afford food.
It is unacceptable that a group of young people that have been under government care through childhood are now expected to be fully independent without any preparation. This has proven ineffective every year, most recently with a recent national study showing that 80% of youth aging out of foster care were leading dysfunctional lives
This problem continues to cycle, according to the same Midwest study, with no training or experience over half of aged out youth are unemployed and two thirds have not held a job for longer than a year.
Many attribute this to the fact that only 58 percent of foster youth will graduate high school by age 19, compared to 87 percent of all 19-year-olds in the U.S. Meanwhile scholarship opportunities are becoming more competitive and providing youth with less buying power to attend higher education.
Side effects of an unstable childhood, such as moving from foster home to foster home at an average rate of two years, are seen in studies that show one in three aged out youth are suffering from some form of mental illness.
This is not only a serious medical problem, but also the economic strain of medical expenses for goods and services such as therapy and medication put these youth at a disadvantage early on. Especially when Medicaid, an government entitlement healthcare program, does not cover all of the needs required by these aged out youth, such as therapy, and becomes harder and harder to navigate.
The paramount concern for this demographic is that one in four become involved in the justice system within two years of leaving foster care.
Compared to the $63.4 billion a year that the United States spent to cover the costs of incarceration this past year, aged out youth comprised 80% of the national prison population and therefore 80% of the overall costs.
This increases economic costs across the board and continues to create barriers to housing and employment that become considerably harder to obtain once one has been convicted.
Fortunately, I do think there is a solution. In 2010 The Minnesota State Legislature passed a bill that would allow foster youth that reach the age of 18 without a permanent family to stay under the system until 21, allowing for an emerging adulthood that many of us experience. But six years later and it is time we improve.
The Minnesota Legislature should pass a bill that gives these youth temporary housing because adults with stable housing are more likely to stay in school, stay safe, and are less likely to engage in gang activity and substance abuse.
Job and independent living training will provide experience and confidence to be self-sustaining.
The bill should entail a plan to provide adequate healthcare that will extend until an aged out youth reaches the age of 26, to help the 50% of former fosters that report being uninsured.
To help get rid off education barriers, this bill would try and increase the Chafee Education Award that offers “college tuition and living assistance for students who are in foster care or have aged out of it”
These reforms will not only be a great moral victory, but research shows for every taxpayer dollar put into these reforms, $0.35 is saved in the long run, which will significantly decrease the average $300,000 spent on each aged out youth throughout their lifetime.
If you want to help this cause send a letter to your state lawmakers (below) or reach out to one of the interest groups involved. These include National Children’s Law Network, Kids at Risk Action (Kara), CASA, or Youth Law Summit. There are also many avenues in which you can volunteer including the Guardian Ad-Litem program or working together with some of these interest groups to help spread awareness.