Being placed in a foster home is bad enough for a child in foster care. Sadly, for far too many children in foster care, leaving the foster care system is even more traumatic. As a youth in care reaches the age of 18, in most states, the child “ages out” of the foster system, and begins the transition into “the real world.” Each year, between 20,000 to 25,000 foster children age out of the system and attempt to begin life on their own. Of the roughly 450,000 children in care in the United States each year, this is a large number and disturbing percentage.
For many children in foster care, foster care is a temporary service before returning home to a parent, moving in with a biological family member, or even beginning a new life in an adopted home. Yet, for thousands who do not find reunification with family in their lives, reaching 18 years of age can be a tremendously frightening experience. For others, 21 is the year where they may find themselves no longer part of the foster care system, depending upon the state the foster children reside in.
For most young adults leaving home for the first time, they have someone to rely on when facing challenges, difficulties, and trials. Whether the problems are financial, emotional, school oriented, or simply a flat tire that needs to be fixed, most young adults can pick up a phone and call an adult who is quick to help. Youth in foster care who age out of the system many times do not have this type of support, no one to call; no one who can come to their aid. Youth who age out of the system face an array of problems and challenges.
Too often, these children and youth have already faced such hardships as neglect, abuse, learning disabilities, and abandonment. Along with this, the majority of foster children have difficulties with school, with over fifty percent of those who age out dropping out of school. Indeed, only two percent of all foster children who age out graduate from college. Lack of financial skills, work experiences, social skills, and various forms of training, along with the lack of support from family and caring adults makes it even more problematic.
In reality, so few are willing to help, and the future is a very bleak and tragic one for these youth, indeed.
Yet, the truth is, you can help. You can help a teen leaving foster care.
Here are 15 ways you can help a youth who has aged out of foster care.
1. Become an after school/college tutor.
2. Donate school supplies to local foster care agencies.
3. Develop a college and scholarship fund.
4. Teach youth money skills and the importance of saving.
5. Help youth open up a bank account.
6. Donate household goods to local foster care agency.
7. Donate furniture and clothing to local foster care agency.
8. Teach youth importance of good health and hygiene.
9. Show former foster youth how to read food labels, and how to choose fresh and nutritional food.
10. Teach youth how to cook and prepare a variety of healthy meals, and the importance of a good diet.
11. Be a transport/driver to youth who have aged out, driving them to job interviews, doctor appointments, etc.
12. If you own a business, give discounts on services and goods.
13. If you own a business, consider hiring former foster youth, and train them with skills.
14. Be a mentor, teaching them important social and communication skills.
15. Be a friend, willing to listen and willing to help.
Dr. John DeGarmo is an international parenting and foster care expert, and a TEDx Talk presenter. He and his wife have had over 60 children come through their home as foster parents. Dr. John is an international consultant to legal firms and foster care agencies, as well as an empowerment and transformational speaker and trainer on many topics about the foster care system. He is the author of several books, including Love and Mayhem: One Big Family’s Uplifting Story of Fostering and Adoption, and writes for several publications. Dr. John has appeared on CNN HLN, Good Morning, America, ABC, CBS, NBC, FOX, and elsewhere, He and his wife have received many awards, including the Good Morning America Ultimate Hero Award. He can be contacted at drjohndegarmo@gmail, through his Facebook page, Dr. John DeGarmo, or at The Foster Care Institute.