How to Help Teenagers Aging Out of Foster Care
Children and teens enter foster care for many reasons—and through no fault of their own. In some cases, their family hasn’t done anything wrong, either. Some parents may simply be going through a difficult time and want their teenagers to be safe while they work it out.
But, unfortunately, many of the children who are placed in foster care never return to their birth family or find an adoptive family. So how can you help teens aging out of foster care? Read on to learn more about this unique group of children and teens and what you can do to support them.
What Happens When Teens Age Out of Foster Care?
When children are placed in foster care, the hope is they will soon be reunited with their family, an extended family member, or be permanently adopted. But the reality is that less than a third of the kids return to their birth family. Many reach the age of 18 to 21 with no place to call home.
Teens who age out of foster care need to make their way in the world and statistics show many of them struggle:
- They must quickly find suitable living accommodations, so many of them experience homelessness right away.
- Under 50% have graduated high school so they may find it difficult to get a job that pays enough to meet the standard costs of living.
- By the time they are 21 years old, around 20% get arrested and end up in prison.
- About 25% are diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), which is double the rate of U.S. veterans.
- Over 70% of girls who have been in foster care are pregnant by age 21.
How Many Teens Age Out of Foster Care in VA Each Year?
Around 18% of teenagers age out of foster care in Virginia each year. Let’s take a closer look at these teens and young adults so we can begin to understand the situation and how we can help teens aging out of foster care.
- In Virginia in 2021, there were 5,411 children and teens in foster care.
- About 60% are Caucasian, 29% are African-American, and 11% are Hispanic.
- The average age of a child waiting to be adopted in VA is 9 years old.
- About 24% are 1-5 years old and about 20% are 16-18 years old.
- The average stay of children in foster care is 21 months.
- Kids may be placed in temporary care while their family gets through a tough spot.
- About half the kids have been neglected.
- About a quarter of kids need care because of a parent’s substance abuse problem.
- Some kids may have been physically abused.
How UMFS Helps Teens Aging Out Of Foster Care
Fortunately, these teenagers don’t have to age out of foster care alone. Organizations like UMFS and the Virginia Department of Social Services offer ongoing support in partnership with outstanding community initiatives.
Foster Parents Give Teens the Right Tools
The most important way to support teens who will age out of foster care is to become a foster parent while they’re still under 18 years old. There is currently a large gap of foster parents who are willing to accept teenagers into their home.
Foster parents willing to accept teenagers who will age out of foster care can make a significant impact even if it’s only for a few months. As a foster parent you will provide teenagers with the support system and skills they will need to become resilient adults.
Project LIFE Supports Independent Living
UMFS has partnered with Project LIFE to help teens aging out of foster care. The project aims to create youth-adult partnerships (YAPs) so children and teens can build lifelong connections with adults who keep supporting the teenagers when they leave foster care.
Project LIFE also offers:
- Events to help teens learn how to manage responsibilities like car maintenance
- Conferences so foster teens can meet others like them from around the U.S.
- Advocacy training so they can have a voice on issues like foster care regulations
- Training on financial topics, like how to maintain good credit
A Success Story
Despite the statistics, growing up in foster care and aging out of the system doesn’t mean your life has to be tough forever. Mackenzie entered foster care at the tender age of 6, then moved around living with extended family, different residential programs, group homes, and even a juvenile justice facility.
At 13 years old, she arrived at the UMFS Child and Family Healing Center (CFHC), which was a pivotal moment in her life. At CFHC, Mackenzie gained “healthy, natural support” through foster care and Project LIFE.
Taking advantage of all the resources available to her in Virginia, Mackenzie was able to learn life skills that helped build her confidence. She’s now thriving in a stable home and working a job she enjoys. Mackenzie credits CFHC and Project Life with helping her turn her life in a happier, more positive direction.
How You Can Help Teenagers Aging Out of Foster Care
Of course, the stories about teens who are placed in foster care due to the difficulties surrounding their homelife are heartbreaking to read. The good news is that there are many ways you can get involved.
If you’re able, become a foster parent. UMFS approves parents to foster and adopt from foster care so you are prepared for whatever situation best serves the youth you have in your home and your family. UMFS offers many resources to guide you in this journey.
If you can’t offer hands-on support for a child or teen at the moment, you could donate to organizations that are doing this important work!