feature

Aging Out of the
BY JOHN DeGARMO, ED.D.

Helping Foster Children
properly provide for the child. Furthermore, as many foster children do not graduate from high school, they find it difficult to obtain a job that will be able to provide for them financially. Adding to this, most simply do not have the skills, training or tools necessary in procuring a stable job. Many foster children who age out also turn to drugs and even crime, thus resulting in jail sentences. Indeed, the percentage of those in jail at any given time in the United States who have had some experience with foster care in their lives is a staggering statistic at well more than 70 percent. Certainly, it is a bleak future that most foster children face as they age out of a system; a system that may have failed them with the resources, training and support they sorely need in order to be a success, or even a positive contribution to society. Indeed, foster parents can help to prevent many of these problems from arising in the first place by attending to some tasks while a child is in their care. As soon as a foster child is ready, begin teaching the child the fundamentals of personal financial responsibility by helping to develop simple money skills. Help the child by opening up and managing a personal bank account, as well as how to balance a budget. Allow a foster child to learn how to cook. Teach the child how to clean and take care of a household and general first aid. Practice filling out job and college applications. Perhaps most importantly, stress the importance of education and encourage the child to graduate from high school with the possibility of college, technical school or military service as important options beyond secondary school.

E

ach year, between 20,000 to 25,000 foster children age out of the system and attempt to begin life on their own. Of the 500,000 children in care in the United States each year, this is a large number and disturbing percentage. For many foster children, foster care is a temporary service before returning home to a parent, moving in with a biological family member, or even beginning a new life in an adoptive home. Yet, for thousands who do not find reunification with family in their lives, reaching 18 years of age can be a tremendously frightening experience. For others, 21 is the year where they may find themselves no longer part of the foster care system, depending upon the state the foster children reside in. For most young adults leaving home for the first time, they have someone to rely on when facing challenges, difficulties and trials. Whether the problems are financial, emotional, school oriented or simply a flat tire that needs to be fixed, most young adults can pick up a phone to call an adult who is quick to help. Foster children who age out of the system many times do not have this type of support — no one to call, no one who can come to their aid. Foster children who age out of the system face an array of problems and challenges. Too often, these children have already faced such hardships as neglect, abuse, learning disabilities and abandonment. Along with this, the majority of foster children have difficulties with school, with more than 50 percent of those who age out dropping out of school. Indeed, only two percent of all foster children who age out graduate from college. Lack of financial skills, work experiences, social skills and various forms of training,

along with the lack of support from family and caring adults makes it even more problematic. As a result of these obstacles and challenges, most foster children who age out of the system find themselves at risk in several ways. To begin with, when foster children leave the foster care system, they often have no place to call home. More than half of all youth who age out of the system end up being homeless at one point at least once in their young lives. As they struggle with financial problems, finding a safe and stable place to call home is often hard. Too many foster children are forced to turn to the streets for a time. If they are fortunate, they may end up in a homeless shelter, but this is often not the case. Recent studies have found that adults who have spent time in foster care suffer from the ravages of post-traumatic stress disorder. So widespread is this amongst former foster children that it doubles the rate of those United States combat veterans who suffer from it, as well. Indeed, many youth who leave foster care suffer from a number of mental health disorders, including depression, high anxiety levels and mental illnesses. Along with this, large numbers of these young adults face the trials of not having proper health care and insurance, as they lose the coverage that was provided for them while in care. Many simply do not have someone to care for them when they fall sick or face medical emergencies. Pregnancy levels at an early age are at greater risks among those females who have spent time in foster care, and many young men who age out of the system unexpectedly find themselves fathers and are unable to
I J U L Y / A U G U S T 2 0 1 3 I

3 0

F O S T E R I N G

F A M I L I E S

T O D A Y

W W W . F O S T E R I N G F A M I L I E S T O D A Y . C O M

focus

System System
Who Are on their Own
To be sure, there are ways that one can help these young adults after they have aged out of foster care. Chief among these is simply being a mentor to an aged out foster child. There are many organizations across the country that offer opportunities for serving as a mentor. Some of these organizations can be found at the state and national level, while others may be through local foster agencies, churches or even college programs. Mentoring will allow these former foster children not only a listening ear as they discuss the many challenges that they face, but wisdom and guidance during times of struggle. With as little as an hour a week, mentors can help foster children with many important life and social skills, while at the same time creating stable, positive and healthy relationships, perhaps for the first time ever for the young adult. Research has shown that most foster children struggle with academics while in school. After school and college tutoring programs are helpful to those who have aged out, as they not only help the young adult with the material being studied, but also help to develop stronger study learning skills. As many aged out foster youth cannot afford school, assistance in this manner is most helpful. Communities can begin a foster scholarship fund, setting up a college fund for those foster children wishing to further their education. Supplies for school can be donated to local foster care agencies who work with children who will soon age out. These supplies can include paper, pencils, pens, calculators, backpacks and other school needs. For those who are enrolled in college, bookstore gift cards and certificates can also be quite beneficial.
F O S T E R I N G F A M I L I E S T O D A Y I J U L Y / A U G U S T 2 0 1 3 I

W W W . F O S T E R I N G F A M I L I E S T O D A Y . C O M

BY JOHN DeGARMO, ED.D.

3 1

BY JOHN DeGARMO, ED.D.

Along with school supply donations, household goods are also of great use to aged out youths. Clothes, cooking and bedding items, electrical appliances, furniture, and other household items can be donated to local foster care agencies. Contact the local foster care agency to inquire about being a transporter, one who provides transportation to aged out youth. As most former foster children struggle with money, it is likely that they will not have cars or means of transportation. Volunteers can help by providing transportation to job interviews, school venues and medical appointments. For businesses that wish to assist aged out foster children, discounts on services and goods are most helpful. Whether it is clothing, groceries, computer, phones and other electronic devices, medications, and even legal and financial services, discounts on these can help those former foster youth who are struggling financially. Those who own a business or service may also wish to consider hiring former foster children, and train them with the skills that fit the particular business or service and helping them develop workforce skills.

Perhaps the biggest impact one can make with those who have aged out of the system is to become an advocate of change. By contacting lawmakers, politicians and publicity agents through emails, letters, phone calls and other means of communication, one can bring attention to the needs of these young adults who are facing a series of challenges after leaving the foster care system. Along with this, these advocates of change can also post information in editorial letters, websites, public forums, and so forth. By lobbying for change, new laws can be introduced, and information can be brought forward to the general public. Most teens, when leaving home for the first time, are able to still rely on their parents or family members for advice, assistance and support. For those foster teens who age out of the system, this is not the case. Instead, leaving care is often a time of anxiety, fear and danger, as the state and their former foster families are no longer required to help them or provide assistance. Instead, foster teens are expected to fend for themselves; sink or swim, so to speak, with most sinking

feature

quickly in dangerous and uncharted waters. With some skills and knowledge taught beforehand by foster parents and agencies, mentoring and assistance after they age out, foster teens will be better equipped to succeed as they enter into the adult world. ❁

ABOUT THE AUTHOR: John DeGarmo, Ed.D., has been a foster parent for 11 years, now, and he and his wife have had more than 30 children come through their home. He is a speaker and trainer on many topics about the foster care system, and travels around the nation delivering passionate, dynamic, energetic and informative presentations. DeGarmo is the author of the highly inspirational and bestselling book “Fostering Love: One Foster Parent’s Story,” and the upcoming book “The Foster Parenting Manual: A Practical Guide to Creating a Loving, Safe and Stable Home.” He also writes for a number of publications and newsletters, both in the United States, and overseas. DeGarmo can be contacted at drjohndegarmo@gmail, through his Facebook page, Dr. John DeGarmo, or at his website, www.drejohndegarmo.com.

[ kids in waiting ]
Samantha, 16, is a bright young woman who is talented and interested in a wide array of activities. Committed when she puts her mind to something, this teen is certified in CPR, first aid and babysitting. Music is a passion of hers and she enjoys numerous genres including, but not limited to, country and hip-hop; her favorite artist is Justin Bieber. Going outdoors, fishing, walking and exercising also keep this active girl entertained. Samantha loves children and volunteering, and is excited to participate in a summer program for children this year. She often proves to be organized. Samantha has recently started cooking and has found she enjoys it. She is anxious to find her permanent family and home. Somewhat of a homebody, she prefers to avoid big crowds. In the tenth grade, she enjoys school, and loves to study. Her favorite subjects are math and science. Samantha benefits from counseling and an Individualized Education Plan, which will need to continue after placement. All family types will be considered for this placement. Samantha has siblings with whom she hopes to remain in contact. Financial assistance may be available for adoption-related services. For Colorado children, both homestudied and non-homestudied Colorado families are encouraged to inquire; only homestudied families from other states should do so. For more information, contact The Adoption Exchange at (800) 451-5246. Child ID 9968

3 2

F O S T E R I N G

F A M I L I E S

T O D A Y

I

J U L Y / A U G U S T

2 0 1 3

I

W W W . F O S T E R I N G F A M I L I E S T O D A Y . C O M