Homeless at age 18 – aging out of foster care

The image of homeless and hungry children is sure to stir emotion in many hearts, but as some of these children flourish into young adulthood, they are often expected to fend for themselves without the benefit of a support system. This week we want to focus on the issue of homeless teens, both to inform you and, we hope, to stir compassion for an often forgotten segment of the homeless population. Today’s discussion on “aging out” of the foster care system is a special post from Heather Morgan, Communications Specialist at Children’s Home Society of Florida.

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Click the photo above to hear Carly's story, a former foster care child who "aged out" of the system. (Carly's story is completed in the first two minutes of the video.)

Imagine, if you will, what it would’ve been like to spend most of your life in foster care. As you carry painful memories from your childhood, you try to move forward, hoping that, someday, you’ll find the stability you’ve never known, the stability most of us take for granted. Years pass.

And then you turn 18. Tonight, on your birthday, there’s a decent chance you’ll sleep on the streets. On your 18th birthday, you officially “age out” of the foster care system, becoming ineligible for most state-funded assistance. After all, you’re now an adult. Responsible for your own well-being. For finding housing. For finishing high school and finding a job. Without any family support.

Were you ready to become an adult at 18? I certainly wasn’t.

While some great independent and transitional living programs are available to help these teens, there aren’t nearly enough. Through no fault of their own, these youth are thrust into the world and expected to function as responsible adults. At 18 years old.

Already, they’ve endured horrific tragedies few of us can comprehend. Many have suffered brutal physical or sexual abuse. Yet others were neglected and abandoned, no longer wanted by the ones who brought them into this world.

But still, they hold on to hope … hope that, somehow, they can create better futures for themselves.

Nationwide, more than 24,000 of our country’s 500,000 youth in foster care age out of the system every year. In Florida, more than 800 will age out this year. Few finish high school; a diploma isn’t quite as important when you’re looking for a place to sleep and struggling to find your next meal. And for the 60 percent who have a baby within four years, the circumstances are even more dire.

Young adults ages 18-23 are one of the fastest growing segments of Florida’s homeless population. Within three years of aging out, 33 percent of former foster teens will be on the streets.

Most of these teens have been in foster care for the majority of their lives, experiencing instability, broken promises and false hope. They haven’t had a parent step up for them, haven’t been welcomed into a family … and as they approach adulthood alone, how can we, as a community, not step up for them now?

- Heather Morgan, APR, Communications Specialist, Children’s Home Society of Florida

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