As Jacob handed his apartment keys over to me, I beamed. On this sunny May morning, Jacob was completing Olive Crest’s program for Transitional Age Youth, or former foster youth aging out of foster care. After spending four years studying and working after high school, he was ready to launch onto his own, having secured a job and his next apartment.
At the age of 23, Jacob has already beat the odds. Outcomes for youth raised in foster care are notoriously grim. Compared to the general population, former foster youth are more likely to experience unemployment and homelessness, and they are less likely to have a high school diploma.1 They are also more likely to be targeted for human trafficking.2 Lacking the social connections and financial stability to make it on their own, these young people often flounder.
What makes the difference for a young man like Jacob? Why has he succeeded in the transition to adulthood, while so many former foster youths continue to struggle?
Aging out of Foster Care
Jacob’s participation in our Transitional Age Youth program gave him stable housing, a community of young adults and staff, and coaching in independent living skills. Many states now have similar programs providing resources and support youth aging out of foster care. These programs are helping to mitigate adverse outcomes. But most importantly, Jacob was supported by a network of churches, supporters, and mentors who invested in his life.
Jacob’s story—and the experiences of young adults like him—show the impact of caring adults on a young person’s life. Maybe you are looking for ways to come alongside young adults like Jacob in their transition to adulthood. Below are a few ways that we have seen individuals, families, and churches get involved.
The simplest intervention is also the most powerful. Young people aging out of foster care need our prayers.
Pray that youth aging out of foster care would develop wisdom. Proverbs 4:6 says, “Do not forsake wisdom, and she will protect you; love her, and she will watch over you.” Young people, especially those who have been raised in foster care, need wisdom as they are making important decisions for their lives. Even day-to-day decisions, like how to spend money and time, can make or break a young person’s future.
Pray also that God would provide permanent people in the lives of former foster youth. When youth age out of the foster care system, they often lack the family relationships that typically sustain young people into adulthood. Pray that God would put leaders, mentors, and friends into their lives and that those connections would sustain them through the ups and downs of adulthood.
Perhaps God is calling you to be a mentor in the life of a youth who is preparing to age out of foster care. Mentors can powerfully impact the lives of young people. Julia, an 18-year-old in our program, has a close relationship with her mentor, Marta. Over the past few years, Marta has earned Julia’s trust by attending her school events, spending time with her on weekends, and being available for phone calls. Julia calls Marta when she has questions that many young people would ask of their parents. Last year, Marta’s family was delighted when Julia accepted their invitation to spend Thanksgiving and Christmas in their home.
It’s essential to set your expectations appropriately in a mentoring relationship. Many young adults are hesitant to form a new connection with someone they don’t know. They may be busy with work and school and preoccupied with peer relationships. You can start your mentoring relationship on the right foot by considering common interests. For example, most young adults are interested in pursuing a career, and they would welcome professional mentoring. If you work outside the home, can you offer to teach about your line of work? Hobbies are also an excellent way to connect as a mentor. For example, if you like to play tennis, you could be matched with a young adult who would appreciate someone to play with them. If you are a parent, you could be a good match for a young parent who needs a role model and would welcome your help and wisdom.
It would be best if you acknowledge that your mentoring relationship will take time to grow. Trust builds slowly for former foster youth who have experienced many losses. Their history may have made them wary of new relationships.
Are you ready to invest in a mentoring relationship that may take time to bear fruit? If so, mentoring a foster youth could be a ministry that God is calling you to embrace.
Another way to bless transitional age youth is by providing resources. During COVID-19, two local churches have regularly provided meals and baked goods to the young adults in our program. Not only are these gifts meeting a tangible need, but they show that the local church sees and cares for them.
When school starts each fall, we receive new backpacks with school supplies for our college students, equipping them with the study tools they need. Supporters will often tuck in a personal note or gift card as an encouragement. Our young people also love it when they receive care packages with snacks and games, or holiday-related items like Christmas decorations for their apartments or Easter baskets.
Financial donations can make a powerful impact. At Olive Crest, when a transitional age youth chooses to save money, supporters match their savings dollar for dollar. This incentive to save can pay big dividends; Jacob saved over $10,000. That allows him to buy a car and put first and last month’s deposit down on his new apartment.
If you are planning to give these resources, be sure to call your local agency to make sure they can use what you’re offering. Most agencies lack storage space to hold onto items that they can’t immediately distribute. That phone call could also open a door to other ideas to meet your specific community’s needs.
There are many ways to get involved with youth aging out of foster care. Your efforts don’t have to meet every need. After all, you are serving real people like Jacob and Julia, not numbers and statistics. Instead, pray about how God would have you help, and take the first step by contacting a local agency working with transitional age youth. You may discover that you can have more of an impact than you ever imagined!