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Each year, between 20,000 to 25,000 foster children age out of the system in the United States and attempt to begin life on their own. For thousands who do not find reunification with family in their lives, reaching 18 years of age can be a tremendously frightening experience. For others, 21 is the year where they may find themselves no longer part of the foster care system, depending upon the state the foster children reside in.
Most young adults leaving home for the first time have someone to rely on when facing challenges, difficulties, and trials. Whether the problems are financial, emotional, school oriented, or simply a flat tire that needs to be fixed, most young adults can pick up a phone and call an adult who is quick to help. Too often, these children have already faced such hardships as neglect, abuse, learning disabilities, and abandonment. Furthermore, the majority of foster children have difficulties with school, with over fifty percent of those who age out dropping out of school. Indeed, only two percent of all foster children who age out graduate from college. Lack of financial skills, work experiences, social skills, and various forms of training, along with the lack of support from family and caring adults makes it even more problematic.
As a result of these obstacles and challenges, most find themselves at risk in several ways. To begin with, when foster children leave the foster care system, they often have no place to call home. Over half of all youth who age out of the system end up being homeless at least once in their young lives. As they struggle with financial problems, finding a safe and stable place to call home is often hard. Too many foster children are forced to turn to the streets for a time.
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Recent studies have found that adults who have spent time in foster care suffer from the ravages of post-traumatic stress disorder. Indeed, many youth who leave foster care suffer from a number of mental health disorders, including depression, high anxiety levels, and mental illnesses. Along with this, large numbers of these young adults face the trials of not having proper health care and insurance, as they lose the coverage that was provided for them while in care. Many simply do not have someone to care for them when they fall sick or face medical emergencies. Pregnancy levels at an early age are at greater risks among those females who have spent time in foster care, and many young men who age out of the system unexpectedly find themselves fathers and are unable to properly provide for the child.
As many foster children do not graduate from high school, they find it difficult to obtain a job that will be able to provide for them financially. Adding to this, most simply do not have the skills, training, or tools necessary in procuring a stable job. Many also turn to drugs and even crime, thus resulting in jail sentences. The percentage of those in jail at any given time in the United States who have had some experience with foster care in their lives is a staggering statistic at well over seventy percent. Next month we shall examine some strategies designed to best aid these children in need as they age out of the system and face an unknown world.
Dr. John DeGarmo has been a foster parent for 11 years, and he and his wife have had over 30 children come through their home. He is a speaker and trainer on many topics about the foster care system, and travels around the nation delivering passionate, dynamic, energetic, and informative presentations. Dr. DeGarmo is the author of the highly inspirational and bestselling book Fostering Love: One Foster Parent’s Story, and the upcoming book The Foster Parenting Manual: A Practical Guide to Creating a Loving, Safe and Stable Home. He writes for a number of publications and newsletters, both here in the United States, and overseas. Dr. DeGarmo can be contacted by email, through his Facebook page, or at his website.