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At 18, most foster youth are "kicked to the curb" with little preparation

So, I have a teenager who is getting ready to “age out.” That term still mystifies me. Being a child of the sixties, I know what “peace out” means. I lived in a college dorm, and I know what a “lock out” is. I even know what a “love IN” is, and that teenager who lives at our house better not have any idea about that one.  But an “age out?”

At 18, most children in foster care will lose their benefits. Children living in government subsidized housing with their parents may have to move out. Foster parents with aged-out kids probably won’t be reimbursed for their care. And this, to society, can be one huge headache. I offer the following statistics:

Each year, over 27,000 youth “age out” of foster care

Most don’t have the educational or the emotional resources they need to succeed. They don’t “get” keeping a checkbook, using a credit or debit card or making a budget.

Between 12% and 40% have been or will be homeless.

Most of the young men will have been incarcerated.

Less than 10% will enter college and fewer will graduate.

More than half will be involved in substance abuse.

Nearly a fourth of the girls will become pregnant within a year.

Nearly three fourths of those aged -out youths will continue to depend upon food stamps and Government stipends to survive.

States try to assist the kids with instruction in daily living activities ( sometimes known as Independent living studies) when they reach sixteen or so.  Counties offer classes to the teens in writing checks and washing clothing as well as keeping track of their finances and applying for employment, among other things. But honestly, thinking back to when you were that age, how seriously would you have taken those studies?

One of our teens, after the caseworker teaching the class to three of our young men had left, was thrilled he knew how to wash the dishes. (You stack them in the machine, put in the soap and turn it on.) As for cooking, our kids would have to survive on boxed mac and cheese because that is what they told the caseworker they wanted to fix. And most recipes they knew of ended with “nuking” the food.

The worker sat with one of the young lady in our care while the girl made out her budget. When the caseworker pointed out a monthly shortfall of some $1500, she was informed by the teen that the missing money was accounted for by what she would get from DSS for her baby and for herself through food stamps and living expenses.

So, anyway, our teen foster child soon will be joining those ranks of kids who haven’t got a snowball’s chance of making a success of life without a big boost ( or a kick in the butt) from someone. He got the training in independent learning…he sat through every one of those lessons with a blank look on his face and noises coming through his throat that might have been snores. (At least I think they came from his throat. I don’t want to consider any alternatives.)

The government tried to attack the problem with a couple of bills ( one, SB5405 would extend foster care payments through the child’s 21st birthday.) And there is a lot of support for some of these programs. But I wonder…what will change for the kids between 18 and 21 that will make them more capable of living independently? Their expenses will be met as they have always been met. They will be treated as children living in someone else’s home, not as young adults expected to take some responsibility for their own lives.

As anyone knows, who has been in foster care for a while, system kids sometimes have everything they want but little that they need. Mom and Dad buy them “things” to keep them busy and out of their parents’ hair. Kids have come to us with no winter coats, but with PlayStations and Xboxes to fill up their rooms. And when the children come into foster care, sometimes parents try to compensate for their bad choices by spending money on “disposables.” Kids come home from visits with toys and bags of candy which we, as foster parents, must regulate. That, if you are keeping score, makes us the bad guys.

But kids grow up expecting the gifting to go on, though the gifter becomes a vague figure holding out a government dole and smiling innocuously. There has to be a better way…maybe a new kind of foster parent. I mean, what about someone trained to help with life skills who would not live with the youth, but who could keep an eye on things like budgets and job applications and food choices. Perhaps it could work like this:  The foster parent receives a small stipend to compensate him for his time, and he lives fairly close to the apartment where the young person resides. Once or twice a week, he assists the kid in shopping for food. If the young person is open to it, the foster parent comes over and supervises ( teaches) the kid to cook simple recipes. ( None of our kids have learned to cook anything beyond boxed mac and cheese in classes, but then they didn’t HAVE to learn because someone else was doing the cooking.) The foster parent could oversee the budget, making sure the kid is putting enough aside to pay rent, utilities, etc. And most importantly, the parent is there to be a back up. But the emphasis is on the child learning to be an adult on his own turf.

I don’t have a clear picture of the plan…it would take someone much smarter than I to develop it. But surely, expecting the children to get jobs and pay their own bills, make their own beds and scrub their own toilets while spending a small amount to assure than an adult responds when he is needed would save BIG BUCKS in a system already overburdened by people conditioned to rely on welfare as their main means of support. That’s all I’m saying.



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