Aging Up, Not Out
Aging Up, Not Out:
How Palmer Home’s Transitional Care Program is Addressing one of Foster Care’s Biggest Challenges
Turning 18 is an exciting time in most teenagers’ life. It’s a time when your entire life is ahead of you. The possibilities seem endless.
However, striking out on your own at 18 without a strong support system in place can be terrifying and lonely. No one is available to help guide decisions or provide encouragement. It’s a reality many children in today’s foster care system experience when they “age out.” The term refers to children who have not been placed with an adoptive family or are unable to return to their biological family by the time they reach the age of majority and are no longer provided for under the umbrella of most traditional state-run foster care systems.
According to the National Foster Youth Institution, more than 23,000 children age out of the U.S. foster care system every year. Of that number, 20% will become homeless. Only half will find employment by the age of 24 and less than 3% will earn a college degree. They are also more likely to develop a substance abuse problem.
“Living on your own can be very overwhelming for these kids when they get out of foster care,” says Kiona Pharr, Director of Transitional Care for Palmer Home for Children. “It’s hard to attain all the life skills you need by the time you are 18 years old. Without a direct source of support, it can be incredibly challenging.”
Palmer Home recognized this gap and in 2019, took the necessary steps needed to close it. Their transitional care program targets young adults in their care between the ages of 18 and 24. The goal of the program is to guide these individuals through major decisions they will face during this next phase in life.
“Our mission is to provide housing, life skills training, educational and employment support services, and encouragement to empower them to achieve self-sufficiency,” Pharr explains.
One facet of the program is to connect each child with a case manager a few months prior to turning 18. The case manager serves as a mentor, providing guidance and support as the child navigates decisions such as whether to enroll in college, pursue a career or train for vocational development. The case manager also provides instruction for important life skills such as paying bills, managing finances and setting goals for the future.
Another important aspect of the program is to provide safe and secure housing. A 2014 study published by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development states that by providing stable housing, these youths are more likely to complete school or find and maintain meaningful employment. Palmer Home maintains two transitional group housing facilities available to any Palmer young man or woman who needs it. Both houses are overseen by house parents who provide a structured living environment while allowing the young men and women to learn to live independently. Even if a child elects to live elsewhere, either on a college campus or independently, their case manager continues to check in frequently.
Casey Cox arrived at Palmer Home in 2016 when he was 16 years old. He graduated from Tunica Academy in 2020. After graduation, he moved into the men’s transitional housing. He recently enlisted with the Air National Guard and will begin boot camp in San Antonio soon.
“All the people on campus have helped me emotionally,” Cox says. “I’ve never been through something like this before. They have shown me how to go about doing things. My case manager comes by once a week to talk to me, to see how I’m doing and talk about things that are going on.”
Remy Magee also arrived at Palmer Home in 2016. After graduating from Palmer’s homeschool program in 2019, she began attending Mississippi University for Women in Columbus where she lived in the dorms. Now, due to COVID-19 she is attending Northwest Community College and living in the transitional home.
“Though I am in college and learning how to be independent, I get to live in a house with other girls my age and in the same kind of situation I am in,” explains Magee. “While living in the house, we also have that family aspect that we would have never gotten if we did not live at Palmer Home. I appreciate that they understand that we need to know how to do stuff on our own, yet they are willing to help guide us along the way.”
Currently, Palmer Home has more than 20 young men and women participating in the program. Pharr says each one is pursuing their own path.
“It’s a time where if they make mistakes and they have to learn a lesson from a mistake, it’s okay,” says Pharr. “They have somebody to work through that with them. A big part of this program is encouraging all the young men and women, provide a source of support and guide them to become happy, responsible, independent adults.”