How does Foster Care Work?
Most people know what foster care is, however not everyone knows how the system works. Due largely in part to the Child Abuse Prevention and Treatment Act (CAPTA)7, investigations into child abuse and neglect are able to be carried out by the overseeing agencies within their respective states (foster care is a state-level initiative and varies state by state). Investigations are usually the result of a report of suspected abuse or neglect 7. The system first started in New York City where maltreated children were rescued from the streets and placed into foster homes 6. The ultimate goal for every foster care system is to one day reunite children with their biological families 6, unfortunately that does not always happen. Foster homes provide a short or long term safe haven for youth who do not have another family member to turn to. Currently, there are over 400,000 children in the United States residing in foster care with over 20,000 youth “aging out” every year 3.
What Is “Aging Out”?
“Aging out” is the term used to describe all youth becoming emancipated, or fully independent every year from foster care. Youth who age out typically become of age at 18 years old or after high school graduation, but the Foster Connections to Success and Increasing Adoptions Act (FCA) allows for states to extend foster care at their discretion to include youth up to age 21 9. These youth were not in an adoptive home and were not reunited with their biological families during their time in foster care. Aging out also means the state is no longer providing assistance with housing, food, and medical care through the foster system4, and the youth are then treated as adults.
Why is this an issue?
Often when a youth ages out of foster care they are not prepared to live on their own. Youth often lack the preparedness necessary to thrive in the real world– from job readiness/employment, financial stability, and education are just a few things that may be lacking from a youth’s life by the time they age out. The National Foster Youth Institute reported in 2017 of youth aging out that 20% will become instantly homeless, 25% will directly hurt from PTSD, 1 out of 2 will be unemployed by age 24, and there is less than a 3% chance they will ever achieve higher education in the form of a degree.
The Matthews House Impact
Regardless if a youth has already or is about to age out of foster care, we are here for them. Our Empowering Youth program is designed as a resource for any youth who have or are about to age out of foster care, and youth involved in the juvenile justice system; the program empowers them to develop a self-sufficient, healthy lifestyle by offering them opportunities to gain skills that will allow them to thrive independently. The Matthews House also seeks to prevent youth from repeating a negative cycle by: Providing comprehensive case management, connecting them to community resources and empowering them to develop self-sufficiency.
The Mission Applied
The Matthews House staff and volunteers work tirelessly to ensure the best future for youth and families who otherwise may not receive the resources we provide. We strive to fill in any holes in the foundation of foster care to give youth the skills and support they need, and we help prevent youth from entering foster care through strengthening their family life at home. We are excited for the years to come because we know there are more people in need of our help!