Everyone who has experienced the foster care system has had to overcome barriers to their success. For young people aging out of foster care, these barriers can feel insurmountable.
Youth age out of foster care when the state fails to reunify them with their family or place them in a permanent home. All too often, these youth are forced to leave foster care inadequately prepared to navigate all the new responsibilities of adulthood and without a consistent support system. This puts them at a high risk of facing disproportionately adverse outcomes compared to people their age who did not leave the foster care system at 18. For example:
- 20% of the children who age out will become instantly homeless
- Only 1 out of every 2 young people who age out will have some form of gainful employment by 24
- 7 out of 10 girls who age out will become pregnant before turning 21
- There is less than a 3% likelihood for children who have aged out of care to earn a college degree at any point in their life
As a way to fight these outcomes and to show care for these vulnerable young people, the Texas Foster Youth Justice Project published its 8th edition of A Guide for Those “Aging Out” of Foster Care in Texas. This guide is written directly to youth in the Texas foster care system for them to use as a resource to plan their life after foster care.
Some of the topics include youth benefits, employment, housing, health insurance and Medicaid benefits, education and obtaining identification documents. Beyond merely listing many of the activities and responsibilities youth should start to partake in as they age out, the guide also encourages youth to advocate for themselves by outlining what resources and services they are entitled to, the different ways to tackle a single issue, what their rights are and what to do if their rights are being violated.
Importantly, it also gives out the recommended timelines for youth to start looking at these areas before aging out of the system. For example, once youth turn 16, they should meet with their caseworker to begin planning to leave foster care—and if their caseworker does not bring up this subject, then the youth should. It also recommends youth let their caseworker and PAL worker know that they are leaving foster care at least one month in advance to give them time to make the necessary arrangements to get their benefits started. The youth who suddenly leave often may have some difficulties accessing their benefits.
It is important for everyone involved in the foster care system to know about the challenges that older and aging-out youth face when in care and the best ways to navigate them. Advocating for the safety and well-being of youth means encouraging and guiding them through this overwhelming and uncertain time in their lives.