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© Gail Underwood Parker

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Soapbox: Aging Out Kids Need A Connection

Estimates show that by 2020 [if nothing changes]  300,00 children will "age-out" of foster care without ever having found a permanent home.  When that happens they discover that a family is a safety net that lasts long beyond childhood. And they don't have one. Those same studies show that 75,000 of those who age out without a family connection will experience homelessness. For a child who ages out there is no one to call when you are desperate. That can result in disaster and sometimes worse.

Facing the trials and tribulations of normal adulthood without the support of a circle of family and/or friends who can have faith in you and care about you is devastating. In Hawaii they recently experienced what a tragedy it can become. Imagine your own child having to be completely on their own the day of their 18th birthday-- financially, educationally, physically, medically, emotionally alone.

Among the 20,000 or more children who age-out of care each year, fewer than half finish high school, most have no  jobs and no home except maybe crashing on the couch of a luckier friend. Health problems, welfare dependence, and incarceration rates are markedly higher than children with family connections. This is not only morally discouraging, it is also a financial burden of real proportions.

We need families.  Not just biological and foster and adoptive families.  We need extended families.  ANYbody can be an extended family. There are many caring, compassionate people who are not able to be foster parents and raise the children who have come into care from abuse and neglect and trauma.  But couldn't there be a system to match such caring people with children aging out? Couldn't those "extended" family members take responsibility to stay in touch with the new "adult" as they try to find jobs, apartments, friends?  Maybe phone or text once in a while? Couldn't they send a birthday card or holiday card to let the new adult know that someone notices them, cares about them, would miss them?  Even if these aged-out new "adults" never found a forever family, especially if they never did, they need someone to care.

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