The number of young people leaving the U.S. foster care system without a permanent family is at an all-time high, according to a new report from the Pew Charitable Trusts' Kids Are Waiting campaign and the St. Louis-based Jim Casey Youth Opportunities Initiative.
The report, Time for Reform: Aging Out and On Their Own (24 pages, PDF), found that while the total number of children in foster care has decreased, the number who "age out" of the system has increased by 41 percent since 1998. Between 1998 and 2005, more than 165,000 youth aged out of foster care — 25,000 in 2005 alone. Previous studies have shown that serious challenges face those who age out of foster care, with one in four being incarcerated within two years of leaving the system, 20 percent becoming homeless, and only half graduating from high school. "Every child in foster care deserves a family, and the need doesn't end at age eighteen," said Gary Stangler, executive director of the Jim Casey Youth Opportunities Initiative. "The desire for family is hard-wired in us. These young people know there's no substitute for the unconditional support family provides."
Time for Reform provides state-by-state information about those who leave foster care based on research data and focus group interviews with youth who have aged out or soon will. The states and/or jurisdictions with the highest percentage of youth who age out are Virginia, Maine, Illinois, Tennessee, Vermont, Kansas, Massachusetts, West Virginia, California, and Washington, D.C. Each of those as well as Maryland, New Hampshire, South Carolina, Louisiana, and Ohio saw at least 10 percent of their total foster care population age out of the system without a permanent family.
According to the report, more needs to be done to improve the system so that all children in foster care achieve permanency with families as well as to ensure that proper support is in place for those who age out without a permanent family. "Changes to the current federal foster care financing structure could reduce the likelihood that children will languish in foster care and age out without a family," said Bill Frenzel, chairman of the Pew Commission on Children in Foster Care and former ranking minority member of the House Budget Committee. "The Pew Commission recommends a flexible, reliable source of federal funding to enable states to keep families together, avoid placement of children in foster care, and, when they must enter the system, move children more quickly to permanent families."