The Danger of Foster Children Aging Out of the System

Every year, thousands of youth are aging out of the system.

Jennifer Mellon June 13, 2018
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According to a United States Health and Human Services Administration of Children & Families report, data shows that foster youth aging out of the system tend to experience homelessness, early parenthood, and lack of medical insurance. There are currently 428,000 children and youth in the U.S. foster care system and nearly 112,000 waiting for adoption. According to the Administration of Children & Families, teenagers ages 1518 have lower adoption rates than younger children, wait longer to be adopted, and often age out of the system without a stable place to call home.

As the founder of Trustify, the only nationwide network of licensed private investigators, I regularly work with families and organizations that work with children in foster care who are in danger of being trafficked or go missing from the system. There are not enough safeguards in place, especially when children age out of the system at 18 without being placed in a permanent and loving forever family.

So what happens to these children when they turn 18 (the age of emancipation for many foster youth) if they are not placed in a loving, forever family. According to the National Foster Youth Institute, the danger of children aging out of the U.S. foster care system does not just affect the children without forever families, but our entire country as a whole. Here are some statistics that bring these dangers to light:

- More than 23,000 children will age out of the U.S. foster care system every year.

- After reaching the age of 18, 20 percent of the children who were in foster care will become instantly homeless.

- Fifty percent of former foster youth who age out of the system will be unemployed by the age of 24.

- There is less than a three percent chance for children who have aged out of foster care to earn a college degree at any point in their life.

- Seventy percent of girls who age out of the foster care system will become pregnant before the age of 21.

- At least 25 percent of children who age out of the foster care system still suffer from the direct effects of PTSD.

- Sixty percent of young men who age out of the foster care system and are legally emancipated have been convicted of a crime.

- About one in four kids who age out of the system will not graduate from high school

- Only five percent of women and 33 percent of men receive government benefits to meet basic needs after they age out of the system.

- Fifty percent of kids who age out of the system will develop substance dependence.

- Children with a diagnosed disability of any kind, including a learning disability, are twice as likely to age out of the foster care system.

- Kids who enter the foster care system after the age of 12 have a 40 percent chance of being legally emancipated at the age of 18 from the system.

These children are not just statistics. They are our neighbors, our children’s friends, and the future adults we will come across in many aspects of our lives. There is no such thing as “other people’s children” they are our children. The dangers emancipated foster youth experience affect us all. Our criminal justice system disproportionately incarcerates former foster youth. As a country we have an opportunity to advocate for these children now, or we will be dealing with the consequences of allowing tens of thousands of children to grow up without the love, protection, and safety of a forever family. They deserve better than this. Our country is better than this. Consider becoming a foster or adoptive family today. Consider being a voice for the voiceless and advocating for permanent families for these children while they are in the system and for better safeguards and safety nets when they age out without a forever family.


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Jennifer Mellon

Jennifer Mellon has worked in the child welfare field for more than a decade, serving in varying capacities as the Executive Director and Chief Development Officer of Joint Council on International Children's Services (JCICS) and the Corporate Communications Program Manager for the Congressional Coalition on Adoption Institute (CCAI). Jennifer has served on the Board of the Campagna Center, which provides critical educational services to children and families in the DC Metro Area and on the Development Committee for the National Council for Adoption. She is the mom of three children and resides in Alexandria, Virginia.

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