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The Tragedy of Turning 18: Aging Out of Foster Care

For most teenagers in America, turning 18 years old is an exciting time.   High school graduation is right around the corner, and the possibilities of college or an exciting career are on the horizon.  A sense of independence often fills the young adult with confidence and enthusiasm.   To be sure, it is often seen as a rite of passage into adulthood.

Yet, for roughly 25,000 teens in America each year, turning 18 year of age in many states is a time filled with anxiety, concern, and oftentimes, tragedy.   On any given day in America, there are roughly 450,000 children placed into the foster care in America each year, a number that has risen the past several years.  To be sure, 25,000 is a disturbing number and percentage of these youth.  For so many the end result is a tragic one.

Typically, children from traditional homes have parents who are able to guide them through these changes, providing help and advice as these 18 year olds determine the next stage in their lives. Along with this, most young adults are still able to rely on their parents not only for good advice, but for help financially, as well. Foster children, though, do not have these resources, these lifelines so to speak, to help out as they try to ease into their own lives of independence.  When they are sick, there is no one to take care of them.  Struggling in college?  Often, there is no one to help them with their studies.  Car broken down?   Most former foster children have no one to turn to for help.

Foster youth who age out of care often leave the foster system without the necessary skills, experiences, or knowledge they need in order to best adjust to society.  Without a family to turn to once they age out, many foster children find themselves in difficult times and situations.   According to foster Chris Chmielewski, himself an alumni from foster care, and is now editor and owner of Foster Focus magazine, "The lack of life skills being taught before a youth aging out of care is seemingly inadequate.

Even the most basic of tasks; cleaning laundry, setting up a bank account or finding housing, seem to be foreign concepts to youth leaving care. Without those skills, these kids stand very little chance of not ending up on the streets."
These young adults, who are involuntarily separated from their foster families through the intervention of the government, face higher rates of homelessness, as most have no options for future housing.  Unemployment is higher in former foster children, and many struggle financially.  This may be due to the fact that roughly 50% of those foster youth who age out do not complete high school.   Rhonda Sciortino, who also is a foster care alumni, business owner, author,  and advocate  stated, “There are an estimated 12 million former foster kids in the US.  These Survivors of abuse need job skills and employment; job skills that so many do not have.”

Even more disturbing is that more these youth are more than twice as likely not to have a high school diploma than those their own age.  Less than 6% of former foster children ever make it to college, let alone graduate with a degree. One third of youth who age out of care seek mental health care.  Perhaps more shocking is the that youth who age out of foster care are twice as likely to suffer from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder as U.S. war veterans.    Roughly 71% of young women who age out of foster care end up pregnant by age 21, and the cycle of foster care continues for the next generation. 

Indeed, I have adopted two children from foster care who are third generation foster care.  Third generation.  Their parents, and their grandparents were also in foster care, a system that failed them.

For so many youth, it is a system that fails them and a time of anxiety.  It is a system that does not prepare them for a future, and it is a future of tragedy.

Dr. John DeGarmo has been a foster parent for 14 years, now, and he and his wife have had over 50 children come through their home. He is a consultant to legal firms and foster care agencies, as well as a speaker and trainer on many topics about the foster care system. He is the author of several foster care books, including Faith and Foster Care: How We Impact God’s Kingdom, and writes for several publications. He can be contacted at drjohndegarmo@gmail.com, through his Facebook page, Dr. John DeGarmo, or at The Foster Care Institute.

Foster Care and Parenting Specialist

Dr. John DeGarmo is considered a leading expert in Foster Care and Parenting.  Dr. John and his wife have been parents to over 50 children, including adopting three children from the foster care system. He is the host of the weekly radio program Parent Factors with Dr. John. Find out more HERE.