Aging Out: Challenges youth face when they leave foster care
Right now, about 9,000 Tennessee kids are waiting for a foster family and the clock is ticking. When those kids become adults, they are left to create their own families. Many struggle to navigate adulthood alone.
When children are not able to stay in their own homes or with a relative to care for them, they can end up in state custody.
The Department of Children’s Services says their goal for children is to work toward a safe return home to their families. Right now, about 9,000 Tennessee kids are waiting for a foster family and the clock is ticking. When those kids become adults, they are left to create their own families. Many struggle to navigate adulthood alone.
Ten years ago foster care in Tennessee was expanded to include kids until they turn 21, but less than 40 percent of kids stay in the system after turning 18, leaving teens like Sabrina Thompson on their own.
"I kind of just avoided going to school and I was brought to the courts and that's when I was moved to a group home,” Thompson said.
Thompson was in high school when she entered foster care.
"It made me realize how short my time in states custody was and many other girls are in it for years,” she said.
When she turned 18 she aged out of the system she relied on.
"You kinda gotta figure out what you're going to do with your life and it's kinda overwhelming… I was just going to be like whatever drugs, alcohol, you know food stamps,” Thompson said.
Sabrina’s story is not uncommon, about a thousand Tennessee children age out of the foster care system each year.
"Imagine just walking out at 18 years old and you don't know where you're going to stay or what your next step is, you know?” Carisa Powell said.
Carisa Powell is the LifeSet supervisor with Youth Villages, she has dedicated her life to kids like Sabrina.
"Basically we are a continuation of services once they leave foster care; you have kids that are not ready to be adults and take on those adult responsibilities and so what you find is a lot of kids are homeless,” Powell explained.
Kids who age out of foster care are more likely to live on the streets, become pregnant, face addiction, jail time, and unemployment.
"A lot of times you have kids that are not ready to be adults and take on those adult responsibilities and so what you find is a lot of kids are homeless,” Powell explained.
It is more than most young adults have to worry about. However, in 2015, it was reality for about 20,000 young people across the country who aged out.
"You have a lot of kids that age out that face adversities that give up, they're tired,” she explained.
Right now, there are more than 415,000 children are in the foster care system. Less than half are placed with a family member or relative to care for them while in foster care.
Youth Villages the group tries to help children and young people across the United States who face a wide range of emotional, mental and behavioral problems. They also support teens who kids who age out.
"Our younger generation, they need us, they need people that want to help guide them and support them. A lot of our young adults have dreams they just don't know how to find them or get there,” said Brittani Stephenson, Sabrina’s mentor.
Sabrina’s story is one of hope. One of her teachers took her in, she finished high school with the help of mentors, she was accepted at UTC, found a job, and is navigating through everyday life.
"They need us. And then when they get the apartments, or get accepted they get so excited,” Powell said.
Having someone to share in that success is what makes the difference between aging out and growing up.
"I was just like wow so there are people that care,” Thompson said.
The numbers are promising for those that opted into extended services with DCS after they aged out. Those that stayed in were two times more likely to have a job or be enrolled into college by 19. Young women who remained in care saw a 38% reduction in pregnancy before 20. In addition, all were twice as likely to complete some post-secondary education.
In Tennessee, there are approved private agencies that, in partnership with DCS, they train and support families to care for children in foster care. Youth Villages and the Chambliss Center for Children are two local organization that have supported Sabrina.
Chambliss offers a transitional living program, provides housing and case management for youth who have aged out of traditional foster care at age 18 and have chosen to participate in Extension of Foster Care (EFC) services in the state of Tennessee.
There is a great need for those that have not aged out as well.
"We tend to really need a place for our older youth that are nearing that age of 18,” said Meredith Jackson, Youth Villages.
As a foster parent you can provide a home for a child who is in temporary need of a family. This can be for a weekend, months, or until the child turns 18.
"These kids are worth getting attached to, that's part of it, that we do expect that you treat them as a member of your family,” Jackson said.
If you are interested in becoming a foster parent there are many organizations that can explain what it takes and walk you through the process. Youth Villages, Chambliss and DCS are just a few that have support staff locally. If you choose to foster these organization will help provide training to answer any questions you have about what to expect.