But for the roughly 26,200 foster youth who aged out of the system in recent years America is effectively telling those children you’re on your own at age 18. That’s the age where foster youth “age out” of the system. Unfortunately studies show youth who age out are more likely to end up homeless, become involved in crime or incarceration and suffer from mental health challenges and higher rates of unemployment.
In some states up to half of former foster youth become homeless within the first 18 months of leaving the system with similar percentages of women becoming young parents within two to four years of being emancipated.
In my home state of California, a staggering 70 percent of inmates in state prison are former foster care youth.
These youth belong to us all because for some reason or another it was determined that entering the foster care system would be a safer environment than staying with a biological parent. As such they become all of our responsibility because despite enormous differences, America has shown we can be a kind and compassionate nation when called upon to offer a helping hand to those in need.
So as we reflect on the challenges foster youth face during National Foster Care Month its only right to ask if we are doing enough to care for our foster youth as they transition into adulthood. If we can agree that children who grow up in the most stable environments aren’t ready to completely be on their own at age 18 then why should we accept anything less for foster youth who are every bit as deserving of the love and support any other child should receive.
Although there are plenty of alarming facts and figures depicting a grim picture for children in care the resiliency of foster youth remains strong and we have a shared obligation to support them as they transition into adulthood.
Currently 19 states have had proposals approved to continue foster care until age 21. Some states have been phasing in their extended care provisions but budget cuts at the local and federal level have made this difficult. We can and should rally to find more appropriate offsets to help states make this transition while encouraging every state in the union to follow suite.
Extending care during such a pivotal time in a youth’s development could help to reduce the number of youth who end up homeless, incarcerated or unemployed before they’ve gotten a fair shot at adulthood.
Just imagine how many youth from stable homes could count themselves among the statistics mentioned above if there was no support system to help them transition or a family to answer that call back home when they spent too much money at the mall and were short on rent or made some unwise decisions at a college party and needed help avoiding the justice system.
Foster youth are no different. They are all of our children and they need our support.
Children who grow up in a loving and stable home with parents who love them know that no matter what they face in life they’ve got an abundance of support to help them meet each and every challenge.
America’s foster youth deserve nothing less and it’s up to each and every one of us to ensure they receive the love and support they need for a healthy and productive transition into adulthood.
May is National Foster Care Month and Rep Bass is founder and co-chairman of the bipartisan Congressional Caucus on Foster Youth.