Aging Out

May 26, 2014

Among the endlessly adorable pictures of children and families that adorn my Facebook news feed, I’ve noticed an encouraging trend. In the last year or so, at least four of my friends have adopted children through the foster care system. Many more continue to serve as foster parents and several of these are seeking to adopt the children currently residing with them.

Perhaps the foster care system is pretty broken. It’s impossible to read the news and not hear some pretty horrendous stories about children slipping through its cracks. But when I see these pictures of ecstatic, newly adopted children being welcomed for life into the arms of my dedicated and loving friends, I have to think that something must be working somewhere in the way it’s supposed to.

May is National Foster Care Month, and one topic that’s been receiving well-earned attention lately are wide-scale attempts among advocates for foster youth to make “Aging Out” at age eighteen a thing of the past.
The numbers are startling. In 2012, 23,439 children aged out or were emancipated from the foster care system. According to Rita Soronen, President and CEO of the Dave Thomas Foundation for Adoption, “Conservative studies find one in five will become homeless after 18; at 24, only half will be employed; less than 3% will have earned a college degree; 71% of women will be pregnant by 21; and one in four will have experienced post-traumatic stress disorder at twice the rate of United States war veterans. And too often, many are at risk of moving back into government systems — from juvenile centers to prison.”

In an article for CNN entitled “We are Abandoning Children in Foster Care,” Soronen cites several reasons for these grim statistics. Many who age out of foster care have not completed their high school educations, struggle to receive financial aid for higher education, and have difficulty navigating the widespread responsibilities of young adulthood completely on their own.

For many of us, we need think back only to college to imagine what it would have been like to try to get through that period of time without a family. No one to call and check on the progress of assignments and to encourage you when you are struggling. No one to loan you money when rent comes due before your paycheck arrives. No home to return to on breaks. No familiar favorite meals waiting for you. No blessedly quarter-free washing machine and dryer in the family laundry room.

The Christian Alliance for Orphans (CAFO) presents some similarly stark numbers to those discussed by Soronen and presents five major areas in which the foster care system as well as church communities and agencies like Palmer Home can help make a difference in the lives of those young adults who find themselves aging out. CAFO recommends the following: life skills training, spiritual care and mentoring, transitional housing, career development, and support networks. Their Aging Out Initiative even highlights specific programs that have been successful at employing these various strategies.

It should come as no surprise to those of you who have been part of the Palmer Home family to learn that in response not only to global statistics like these but to some individual cases of those who’d aged out of Palmer Home that they now offer all five of these different approaches to residents over the age of 18 and up until age 24, three years beyond the nationally recommended age of 21.

Not only does Palmer Home offer dedicated housing to older residents who are attending college, working, or receiving vocational training nearby, providing room and board in a familiar, safe environment—but, through several generous donations and grants, they are also able to help offset the cost of higher education for those students who choose to pursue it and to provide career counseling and spiritual and emotional support to those residents making the difficult transition from adolescence to adulthood.

Eighteen year olds don’t seem as obviously vulnerable as their younger counterparts, but these studies clearly show that their need is urgent. By providing support for children who age out, Palmer Home is truly reaching the whole child at a critical juncture and finding new and relevant ways to make hope still grow.