The statistic is alarming. Approximately twenty-thousand older children age out of the US foster care system per year. This means that 20,000 young adults ages 18-21 enter into the world without the stability that families bring. While the statistic is hard to hear, the truth about what can happen to these young adults is even more difficult.

Here are some facts of what happens to kids who age out of foster care

1) Twenty percent of youth who were in foster care will become instantly homeless upon aging out.

Yes. You read that right . . . instantly homeless. Older youth who have simply survived in the system but did not thrive in it, age out with nowhere to call home and most of the time, they are lacking the personal skills and knowledge they need to access resources that can help them.

2) There is less than a 3% chance of a child who ages out of foster care achieving higher education.

It is not that they are incapable of further education, are not intelligent, or do not desire to earn a college degree. Many lack the skills needed to enroll in college or apply for tuition grants or education loans.

3) Only one out of every two older youth will have employment by the age of twenty-four.

With the lack of education and appropriate independent living skills, the risk of unemployment is very high. Because of this, older youth who are on the streets are at high risk for abusing substances, becoming victims of crimes, engaging in criminal behavior, and falling prey to human traffickers. With the lack of stability and resources, these youths become easy targets for victimization.

4) Twenty-five percent of older youth who age out of foster care are affected by PTSD.

In essence, child abuse and neglect just does not go away once a child enters the system and is out of harm’s way. The impact of abuse and neglect is lifelong and can be very detrimental to overall functioning. Growing up in the foster care system in itself can be traumatic – not knowing if one is going to be reunified with biological family or adopted, not knowing if one has to move or not, bouncing around from home to home, changing caseworkers every year or so, etc. All of this is hard to overcome.

5) Seven out of ten girls who age out will become pregnant before the age of twenty-one.

This statistic is very concerning given the entirety of all of the risk factors mentioned above. There is an additional risk to the babies born to these mothers. They potentially could become victims of abuse and neglect and experience homelessness and instability, thus, continuing the cycle.

If reading these statistics does not cause a reaction within you, then perhaps you need to read them again.

Behind each stat is a young person whose life was disrupted by abuse and neglect and who spent their childhood in the system by no fault of their own.

There are things that we can all do to improve their chances of success, though.

  • Consider becoming a mentor or volunteer with a program that works directly with foster youth.
  • If you have thought about becoming a foster or adoptive parent, consider taking in older kids. There is a great need for foster homes for teenagers, and through fostering, you can have a direct impact of preparing youth for adulthood.
  • Get involved with advocacy groups that affect change in policy and procedures.
  • Educate others about what is going on with kids who age out of the system.

Every youth who ages out of care deserves the opportunity to explore their talents and interests and to achieve their goals (because they all have them). They have the right to live their lives free of abuse and victimization. They need to know that they are not “throw-away” kids. Surely, we can do better.

(Statistics taken from the National Foster Youth Institute.)