Children who enter the foster care system have experienced considerable trauma. Unfortunately, these early experiences often lead to significant difficulties later in life, with many foster children experiencing a range of unique physical and mental health needs, physical disabilities, and developmental delays.

Youth who age out, or leave the foster care system at age 18 with no permanent home or family, face additional challenges—an offshoot of leaving care without the preparation or support needed to successfully transition to adulthood. One in four will be incarcerated within the first two years after leaving the system, and a fourth will become homeless at some point. Only 58 percent will obtain a high school degree by age 19 – compared to 87 percent of non-foster kids. An astounding 77 percent of female foster youth became pregnant by 23 or 24, which is compared to just 40 percent of their peers. As you can see, the outlook looks rather grim for these youth.

Although the percentage of youth aging out of foster care is small (over 24,000 aged out of the system in 2005), data indicates that the number has been increasing since 2001. Efforts are underway in several states and examples of best practices exist, but supporting youth transitioning from care to independence must be embedded in child welfare practice and policy. A new National Governors Association Center Report titled “The Transition to Adulthood: How States Can Support Older Youth in Foster Care ” outlines strategies for states in supporting foster youth in their transition to adulthood. The report focuses on five critical areas of support: education, employment, housing, health care and relationships and outlines specific strategies in each area. These include:

  • Promoting educational attainment;
  • Connecting youth with employment and career training;
  • Enhancing access to safe and stable housing;
  • Helping youth access and manage health care; and
  • Helping youth build stable and lifelong relationships.

The report additionally notes that successful state supports not only improve the lives of foster youth, but can also act as a cost reduction measure for states by preventing costly negative outcomes like criminality, lack of medical insurance, homelessness, etc;

For more information on youth aging out of the foster care system: