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"Aging out" refers to what happens when youth reach a certain age (age 18 in most states including New Mexico) and are no longer eligible for support from the foster care system. Without foster care funding, many youth lose their place to live, health care coverage, connections to supportive adults, and are ill-prepared to support themselves in the adult world.
"I turned 18 a month before I graduated from high school. The day after graduation, I was kicked out of my foster home, where I had been living for two years. I was 18, a high school graduate on my way to college in the fall, and I was homeless." -- NICOLE, former foster youth.
In 2005, more than 24,000 youth aged out of the US foster care system at the age of 18 without connection to a family. This is an alarming statistic, and even though the overall number of children in foster care is decreasing, the number of youth who age-out of the system continues to grow each year.
"Imagine being 18 and on your own with little help from family and friends. If you make a mistake the consequences can be drastic," reports a former foster youth and FosterClub member. Foster youth aging out of the system have many obstacles and hurdles to overcome, many details about living as an adult yet to learn. Yet most foster youth have no solid relationships with family or other adults at this critical time in their lives, no caring adult they can count on for guidance and support.
Statistics demonstrate poor outcomes for youth that have aged out of the foster care system.
- One in four will be incarcerated within the first two years after they leave the system.
- Over one-fifth will become homeless at some time after age 18.
- Approximately 58 percent had a high school degree at age 19, compared to 87 percent of a national comparison group of non-foster youth.
- Of youth who aged out of foster care and are over the age of 25, less than 3 percent earned their college degrees, compared with 28 percent of the general population.
In 1999, the Chafee Foster Care Independence Act provided guidelines and funding to help improve services to youth who transition out of the foster care system. More funding became available from the federal government through Chafee Education and Training Vouchers, designed to support higher education. In 2008, the Fostering Connections to Success and Increased Adoptions Act requires every youth have a transition plan and allows federal funds to provide services to youth until age 21.
Foster youth report that being connected with a supportive adult really makes a huge difference when aging out. Having a caring and supportive adult to rely on in tough times, to provide help with basic life skills such as job searches, to provide encouragement to succeed, a home for the holidays, etc.