The fact that any child has to spend any amount of time in foster care is tragic in itself. But for those who spend a childhood hopping from home to home, only to eventually age out of the system, it is beyond tragic.
Children and youth are placed into foster care because of neglect and abuse in their homes—the one place they should feel safe. All too often the parents of these children never pull it together enough to be the parents their children deserve. And so the kids never return.
There is hope, as more and more adults are turning to adoption through foster care to create and grow their families. But not enough of us are doing this. And so, each year, about 30,000 kids age out of the system. This means they are, on their 18th birthdays, left without a family of any kind. They are on their own, expected to know how to live, eat, work, and survive. Sadly, the percentage of kids aging out of foster care is getting higher each year. And their chances of success are not great.
Those who age out of foster care are less likely to graduate from high school than their peers who are not in the same circumstance. They are even less likely to attend or graduate from college. Kids aging out of the system are more likely to become homeless (one in five), more likely to become pregnant by age 21 (71%), and are more likely to experience PTSD (one in four). Many youth who age out of foster care have such a tough time that many end up addicted to drugs or committing crimes that land them in jail.
But there are success stories, and more and more programs are being created to help teach life skills and help bridge the gap for those aging out of the system. NPR found Josh Mendoza, a Florida youth who aged out of the system after living in 14 different group homes. They also paid a visit to Katrena Wingo who, at age 24, has a job and a place to live with her 3-year-old son. This slideshow gives us a glimpse into the lives of those who age out of the system but believe in themselves enough to try. These are two stories of youth who have been helped along, who have had someone to rely on.
We can make a difference. For those interested in adoption, considering adopting through foster care will not only make lives better for those kids, but could be the means of creating your forever family that was meant to be.