The realities for youth aging out of foster care too often include loneliness and struggle. However, there are ways we can help transition aged-out foster youth so that they have better opportunities for a successful future.
Youth aging out of foster care deserve to be seen not for the problems they face but rather for their incredible potential. I think of Mateo*, who, at 17 years old, found himself homeless after being abandoned by his father. In the months that followed, he slept on friends’ couches while trying to keep his grades up as he worked labor jobs every day after school to provide for himself. When one 4KIDS Foster Family heard of his predicament, despite already having two younger foster children in their care, they welcomed Mateo into their home. He was then able to graduate high school with honors and move into the 4KIDS Independent Living program, TIL 2:25, to continue to pursue higher education and grow in his faith. Unfortunately, Mateo’s story is an exception and not the norm.
Statistics on Aged Out Foster Youth
At the start of the year, there were 34,825 young adults in foster care between the ages of seventeen and twenty. Nineteen thousand one hundred thirty were emancipated throughout the year. That means nearly 55% of seventeen to twenty-year-olds in foster care age out without a family they can depend on. If reunification or adoption hasn’t been reached by the time these teens reach young adulthood, they are often left with no more than a state stipend.
According to the Administration on Children, Youth and Families (AFCARS):
– 97% of all young adults who age out of foster care will face chronic poverty in their lifetime
– 81% of the young men who age out of foster care become incarcerated
– 71% of the young women who age out experience a pregnancy before they turn 21, and half of those babies end up in foster care as well.
Solutions for Helping Aged Out Foster Youth Transition
Our heart at 4KIDS, and at other Christian foster care ministries like us, is to secure a permanent solution for children and teens in foster care far before they ever age out and have to fight against these odds. In fact, our goal is to see 100% of kids between the ages of 1 and 6 in our community placed in a stable, loving home. When we can establish a secure place for children to belong, we know they can grow up with a much higher likelihood of thriving.
But the reality is that there are many preteens and teens ages 13-17 who are still in need of a place to belong. AFCARS reports that 25,394 teens are in foster care right now, just waiting for a permanent solution through the love of an adoptive family. We need more families who are willing to step into this gap to foster and adopt within this age group. With their help, we can extend the most powerful preventative care possible to keep young adults from ever aging out of foster care.
At 4KIDS, so much of our energy and passion goes toward that preventative effort to keep youth from aging out. However, for those who do still find themselves aging out with nowhere to go, we have developed a model to provide essential support by equipping and guiding these young adults.
A Mission to Help Aged Out Youth
Since 2005, 4KIDS has served over 300 aged-out youth through our Independent Living program, TIL 2:25. The approach and functionality of this program has garnered national recognition as other organizations seek to implement this model. 4KIDS Independent Living provides help transitioning aged-out foster youth by first providing housing to young adults who have aged out and are often facing homelessness. Within these homes are Resident Advisors (RA’s) who, in some cases, are graduates of the Independent Living program. These RA’s have a passion for mentoring and guiding the young adults in their homes and can relate to them in powerful ways. In addition, these young adults attend weekly Bible studies and monthly “Big Fellowship” gatherings that create community and accountability.
Life Skills Classes
We also offer monthly Life Skills Classes where they learn essential skills from business partners and professionals in our communities. These classes include how to manage your finances and invest, cook, and much more, all geared toward independence. During their time at Independent Living, we require our young adults to either be in school or working. Often, they are doing both. Through mentorship and these Life Skills Classes, we’re empowering them with the tools they need to move toward a thriving adulthood as they work to break negative cycles in their lives.
There are plenty of fun events, too, like their Annual Chili Cook-off or the Independent Living Prom. My wife Michelle and I happened to spend our 25th Anniversary at one of the prom nights with these young adults; it was beautiful to participate and to get to know the hopes and dreams of these incredible youth. To see them all dressed up, getting their pictures taken, and dancing the night away was wonderful. In those seemingly simple moments, we were able to make them feel special and make them feel seen. For young adults who have aged out of foster care, so often they have missed out on these milestones and moments where the people around them made them feel special. Looking for ways and opportunities to invest in their lives and to create those moments for these young adults is life-changing.
Our young adults also play an active role in their personal development plans by helping to set their own goals and track their progress. Elevating our young adults’ voices and actively engaging them in this process reflects the heart of another ministry here in Florida called One Voice Impact, founded by the Selfless Love Foundation. One Voice Impact advocates for young adults who have aged out of foster care by empowering their voices. Young adults who have been in foster care don’t want to be defined by their case file any longer; they want their voices to matter, and this movement through One Voice Impact helps to propel their voices even further.
Longing For a Family
More than anything, what these young adults truly long for and what can make the most profound impact of all is offering them a family. Our young adults see 4KIDS as their family. They often say that the Independent Living team and their peers have become their family. 4KIDS Independent Living Case Manager Adrianne Morris shared, “Recently, one of the residents stated that she finally feels like she has a family and that she hopes she is able to stay connected to her new family when she transitions out of the program much like one of the young ladies who transitioned out last year but continues to regularly participate in the gatherings and events.”
We have a board member here at 4KIDS who has been actively involved with Independent Living for over a decade. He leads a weekly small group Bible study with them, prays with the young men, encourages them, helps them learn important lessons, and becomes a reliable figure for them to count on. In a few cases, he’s even gone on to officiate their future weddings and meet their babies years later. He became a part of their lives and became their family.
Reflecting God’s Heart
4KIDS Independent Living Director Ken Lacy said, “The Psalmist reflects the heart of the Lord toward this unique group of people in Psalm 68:6. ‘God places the lonely in families.’ God’s heart beats with rhythms of connection, restoration, and resurrection. In serving this vulnerable but powerful population, we see the gospel on full display.”
You’re never too old to need a family to be a part of. Whether that is finding a family through a program like Independent Living or a church family, giving these young adults a place to belong with people who love them is the most impactful difference we can make. We have the ability to transition aged-out foster youth into successful futures where they belong.
*Some names were changed to protect the identity of the youth we serve.