What Happens After 18?: Aging Out of Foster Care

Leah Tripp

I remember the excitement I felt leading up to March of 2016.

I was turning 18, and I felt like I had the whole world in front of me. I was a senior in high school, I knew where I was going to college, and I felt like I had plenty of options open to me as I moved forward into legal “adulthood.”

18th birthdays should be full of promise and expectation, but for many young adults in America, turning 18 marks a time of great uncertainty.

Each year, over 23,000 children age out of the US foster care system.

Aging out of foster care can be traumatic for a variety of reasons. From a logistical standpoint, many children who age out of foster care become effectively homeless the day they turn 18 if they do not have a support system that is willing to provide them care and housing. According to the National Foster Youth Institute, homelessness impacts 20% of youth who age out of foster care.

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For those who avoid the immediate threat of homelessness, there are a range of other obstacles related to employment, education, and emotional health.

Youth who age out of foster care go to college at a significantly lower rate, as they may not have adults who are willing to guide them through application processes, academic requirements, and required testing.

Their lack of participation in post-secondary education is not due to lack of ability, but to lack of awareness.

In terms of employment, 50% of foster children who age out of the system will have gainful employment by the age of 24. Statistically, the other half of these youth will struggle to maintain stable jobs. The lack of consistent employment can contribute to cyclic patterns that keep foster youth from being able to own their own homes, pursue educational opportunities, or achieve career advancements.

Ultimately, foster youth are in great need of those willing to guide them, care for them, and invest in their lives and growth.

This care can come in the form of full-time foster parenting, mentoring, respite care, or volunteering.

Many Young Adult Foster Homes are beginning to address the challenges associated with aging out by providing care and guidance to foster youth ages 18-21.

These homes allow those who have technically “aged out” to have time to develop necessary skills and a support system in a familial setting.

If you are interested in learning more about helping foster youth, or about Young Adult Foster Homes, visit agapeofnc.org