Turning 18 in the American Foster Care System

Updated: Dec 20, 2020

Written By Chika Ezeigbo

When hearing the word emancipation, the first thing that may come to mind for many leaving the foster care system is losing eligibility to certain social services such as housing, food, and medical care. Emancipation is also referred to as “aging out” because the state is legally “released from parental care and responsibility.” Depending on the state, this happens between the ages of 18-21, leading to more than 23,000 teens aging out of the foster care system as of August 2019. Most individuals are just beginning their adult life, many not in a position to handle it on their own. This leads to a host of issues that must be addressed.

Source: Manship Digital

The foster care system is meant as a temporary solution for issues such as neglect, homelessness, and abuse within the home. However for many kids, it becomes permanent. There are over 22,000 children in the foster care system that have been placed for more than 5 years since entering the system. The idea of emancipating these teens at 18 simply because they are legal adults is not at all wise, due to the fact that they are ill-equipped to deal with the many issues that adulthood will throw at them. Job placement, finances, housing, and food are a few that scratch the surface. All of which most of the world would view as basic life assets in order to survive.

Education and Employment

Looking at education and employment, ¼ of the teens that age out of the foster care system will not have a high school diploma or GED. Meanwhile, 39% of jobs require a high school diploma, meaning these children lack the basic necessities to live a prosperous life. Only half of the kids aging out will be employed by 24. Out of the many kids that age out, 70% say they would like to attend college one day, but only 3% end up obtaining a bachelor's degree sometime in their lifetime.

These emancipated teens have dreams for the future but without the support needed from family it becomes difficult. It is nearly impossible for these young adults to succeed in their education due to factors such as limited academic preparation, financial barriers, and lack of knowledge of resources. This does not mean it can’t be done, though the reality is much more bleak than hoped for. Thankfully many states have programs in place like tuition waivers, grants, and scholarships that make it easier for emancipated children to obtain a degree.

Source: Child Crisis Arizona

Stumbling Blocks

With the previous setbacks stated, it is no surprise that these young adults have a host of traumas. From being removed from their ill-equipped guardians(or sadly lack of guardians) to being in a group home or institution, each has their own story. Things like education attainment, financial stability and employment factor into a fifth of the teens being emancipated ending up in homelessness. The lack of affordable healthcare can prevent girls from getting the contraceptive they need, causing 7/10 girls younger than 21 becoming pregnant.

Half of aged out teens will experience substance abuse and a quarter of them will suffer from PTSD contributing to an expressway of emancipated teens entering homelessness. Furthermore, a quarter of them will be involved with the criminal justice system just two years after leaving the foster care system. These teens did not have a sense of normalcy for most of their lives, so it is understandable as to why otherwise simple tasks, such as getting a driver’s license or maintaining relationships could be a struggle for emancipated teens.

Source: The Kansas City Star

How to help?

Those aging out of foster care need support from not just the state government, but from other levels of government and local communities as well. This minority of students should not be looked over. Providing mentorship to teens aging out of the system can ultimately create stability in their lives, helping them immensely. If you are unable to help directly there are other ways to help including calling your state’s human services department to urge for more resources for teens in foster care aging out. Email your school district leaders, asking how they can help accommodate foster kids during this time.

You can also donate to organizations like Foster Care Alumni for America,Jim Casey Youth Opportunities Initiative, Foster to Success, and National Council on Independent Living that provide housing, education, health and financial resources to these foster children. Foster Club, is a network for youth in foster care, written there are blogs about personal experiences in the system.

These are only so many ways to help; however, there are always more things you can do to help these kids, be it directly or indirectly. During these unfortunate times many in foster care may feel forgotten but at Paper Bridges we aim to provide emotional support to both children in the foster care system and orphanages, by sending care packages and letters;you can find more information on how to get involved at

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