Aging Out

Each year, for tens of thousands of young people in foster care, turning 18 means losing the supports—financial, educational, social, and otherwise—that they count on. Their peers in the general population get support from their families throughout emerging adulthood, becoming more independent as their brains develop through age 25. But when young people leave foster care without having a permanent family—when they age out—what should be a gradual transition often becomes an abrupt loss that puts them at risk of negative outcomes.

Since 1999, more than 230,000 young people have transitioned from foster care without permanent family connections. Each year, 26,000 transition without the typical growing-up experiences that teach self-sufficiency skills, and without the family supports and community networks that help them make successful transitions to adulthood. These young people experience very poor outcomes at a much higher rate than the general population:

  • More than one in five will become homeless after age 18 1
  • Only 58 percent will graduate high school by age 19 (compared to 87 percent of all 19 year olds) 2
  • 71 percent of young women are pregnant by 21, facing higher rates of unemployment, criminal conviction, public assistance, and involvement in the child welfare system 3
  • At the age of 24, only half are employed 4
  • Fewer than 3 percent will earn a college degree by age 25 (compared to 28 percent of all 25 year olds 5
  • One in four will be involved in the justice system within two years of leaving the foster care system 6

 

  1. Casey Family Programs. (1998). Northwest foster care alumni study. Seattle, WA. p. 37
  2. Courtney, M.E., and Dworsky, A. (2005). Midwest evaluation of the adult functioning of former foster youth: Outcomes at age 19. Chicago, IL: Chapin Hall Center for Children. p. 22
  3. Pecora, P.J., Kessler, R.C., Williams, J., O’Brien, K., Downs, A.C., English, D., White, J., Hiripi, E., White, C.R., Wiggins, T., and Holmes, K. (2005). Improving family foster care: Findings from the Northwest foster care alumni study. Seattle, WA: Casey Family Programs. p. 1Courtney, M.E., Hook, J.L., and Lee, J.S. Distinct Subgroups of Former Foster Youth During the Transition to Adulthood: Implications for Policy and Practice. Chicago: Chapin Hall at the University of Chicago.
  4. Pecora, P.J., et al. (see note #3)
  5. Pecora, P.J., et al. (see note #3)
  6. Courtney, M.E., Dworsky, A., Terao, S., Bost, N., Cusick, G.R., Keller, T., and Havlicek, J. (2005). Midwest evaluation of the adult functioning of former foster youth: Outcomes at age 19. Chicago, IL: Chapin Hall Center for Children. p. 61

JIM CASEY YOUTH OPPORTUNITIES INITIATIVE 222 South Central Avenue, St. Louis MO 63105-3509