Kris’ Corner – Aging Out Without Support

May 19, 2022

Every year hundreds of thousands of teens age out of the foster care system. So how and why does this happen? To be honest, there’s not a clear, concise or easy answer for why so many children age out of care, but here are just a few.

Sometimes the cases begin when a child is much older and the case doesn’t have time to come to fruition. Or a case just takes a long time and the child ages out before it is closed.

Other times, a child is legally free for adoption but it’s often difficult to place older teens in adoptive homes. The truth of the matter is many people don’t envision themselves adopting a 17-year-old who is going to “leave home soon” anyway…or so they think. Many people want to adopt an infant or younger child…so teens age out without a forever family.

And in still other instances, children are legally free but they choose not to be adopted. You may already know this, but I learned it fairly recently and want to help spread the word: in the state of Indiana, at the age of 14 (which seems so, so young to me to be making these kinds of life-changing decisions, but nobody asked me), a child can choose to pursue the collaborative care path, which provides support and training necessary for life after “launching from foster care”…instead of choosing the adoption path.

And all of this seems somewhat upsetting (at least to me it is!) for a child to not have a forever family…but personally I believe the most unfortunate thing about children aging out of the system is that many of them don’t have much (if any) family support at all as they move forward in life; clearly there are “outliers” who do, either who have biological family support or through former foster family, or (obviously) through some other source. But for those who do not, they can struggle with some social and emotional challenges in the future.

And this leads me to the real facts I want to bring to light in my post today: of youth who age out of foster care, 1/4 are incarcerated within 2 years and only 1/2 graduate from high school.

These two statistics share close ties with other social and emotional issues such as drug addiction and homelessness on down the line…and I’ll discuss these other issues more in a later post.

Now to be clear, these statistics obviously show that not all is lost…sometimes kids age out of the system and remain in the home of the foster family. This does not mean the foster family continues to receive a per diem or any financial support from the state; it simply means there is attachment and connection and bond between the child and family and although there may never be a formal adoption (although there can be…adult adoptions are a real thing, in case you didn’t know), they understand that they are one another’s family and will continue to provide the emotional and tangible support as that of a “legal” family.

Other times, kids age out of care and find their way back to their biological families…which may or may not be a healthy support system for them; there are many factors which can determine which way it leans…far too many to discuss in this post. But if you’ve been around foster care for long, you’ll obviously be aware of some of the factors which could make this either a healthy or unhealthy environment.

And still other times, there may be a teacher, coach or some other adult in a foster child’s life who can fill the role of “parent” and provide the support the child needs as they “launch” into the real world.

But this, obviously, doesn’t always happen. Teens age out often with government support/collaborative care, but this is only for a set period of time…and once they reach the end of collaborative care, they are out and facing the world on their own.

I share this just to make people aware…because it is something I don’t think most people consider, as they step into foster care; I will freely admit that I, for one, did not.

Teens (especially those who are free for adoption but choose not to be adopted) need caring adults in their lives…whether the teens want to believe it or not. They don’t know what kind of challenges they may face in the near and/or distant future and sometimes what they truly need is the love and care of a family…because without that, they are more susceptible to other life-changing issues or decisions.