Wednesday, September 1, 2010

The Tragedy of Aging Out

Thirty thousand children leave foster care each year without any family. The technical term for this is "emancipation." The better description is "unconscionable failure."

In most states, children leaving foster care at 18 (or 21 in some places)receive a small one-time payment -- in New York City it’s $750, not even enough for a security deposit on a small apartment. It is not uncommon for a social worker to drive that 18year old to a homeless shelter for his or her first night of "emancipation." According to the largest study ever conducted of kids who had aged out of foster care, by their mid-twenties, only half of these young adults were employed. Nearly 60% of the men had been convicted of a crime. Two thirds of the women were receiving food stamps.

The great tragedy of kids aging out of foster care is just how unnecessary it is. The system for adopting children from foster care is badly broken. Look at any child aging out and you will see lost opportunities -- the 9-year-old whose worker didn't return phone calls from a prospective parent, the 12 year old who wasn't placed because terrific potential parents lived in another state. The 14 year old the state decided to prepare for "independent living" rather than focus on adoption.
Children come into foster care because a state determines there is abuse or neglect. When the state decides that a child can't go home and terminates parental rights, that child becomes, in both a legal and moral sense, our child.