Mark Richardson, Public News Service (AZ)
PHOENIX – A study out this week looks at challenges faced by foster children in Arizona and across the country, when they turn 18 and “age out” of the system.
The Annie E. Casey Foundation data found that overall, young people transitioning from foster care are falling behind others in completing high school, finding jobs and acquiring basic life skills.
Beth Rosenberg, director of child welfare and juvenile justice for the Children’s Action Alliance, said Arizona teens who age out often face challenges brought on by their time in the foster-care system.
“Many children leave foster care at the age of 18,” she said. “They’ve had multiple case managers; they’re living in group homes that restrict normal child activities. Somebody is always telling them what to do and how to do it, and they want to get out of care, think they can make it on their own – and they can’t.”
The research focused on young people from ages 18 to 21, a critical transition period faced by foster children in developing into well-adjusted adults. Rosenberg said Arizona allows them to stay in the system until they’re 21, adding that those who leave without support from their foster families or other adults are at high risk of becoming jobless and even homeless.
The report found that the problems faced by foster youths often are exacerbated by race. Leslie Gross, director of the Jim Casey Youth Opportunities Initiative, said young people of color enter foster care at higher rates than their white peers.
“Young people of color, in over half of the states, are three times more likely to be in care than their white counterparts,” she said. “They’re more likely to have three or more placements while they’re in care, and they’re more likely to transition out of care without a permanent family.”
Gross said the report suggests a number of policy changes for states to ensure that children in their foster-care system can age out with a better chance of a successful transition to adulthood.
“We really need better policies that promote permanency,” she said. “We need to ensure that young people are growing up in families, and this really means supporting biological families so that young people can stay at home; and if they have to be in care, policies that support young people as well as foster families who are willing to care for older youth.”
She added that solutions will require a greater investment from states in programs with a track record of preparing young people for future success.
The report is online at aecf.org.