How to help youth aging out of the system when you aren’t a parent

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How To Help The Youth Who Are Aging Out

 In many states, 18 is the magic number for aging out of the system. Sadly, the youth who leave without families aren’t prepared. Each year, over 20,000 youth age out of the system (also known as aging out) and attempt to begin their new life, on their own, in the real world. It is a disturbingly large number of teens entering adulthood without knowing what to expect.

Many children in foster care return home to a parent, move in with biological family, or into an adoptive home. Unfortunately, many (over 20k thousand) aren’t so lucky. They leave the system without family support, without a family to call their own; reaching 18 years of age isn’t as exciting for them as it is their peers, who all have families to fall back on should they make a bad decision. This can be a frightening experience for foster youth. Some states have the age limit set at 21, the year they are no longer part of the foster system. If all states had the age limit at 21 that would make a tremendous difference to these youth; allowing more time for maturity and life learning lessons within the safety of a foster home.

Youth who age out of the system face an array of challenges: emotional, educational, and financial. Who do they turn to for advice, for help? Who can they trust to have their back and not steer them in the wrong direction?

These children have already had a hard life facing neglect, abuse, or abandonment. Statistics show that roughly 50% of foster teens won’t graduate from high school, and only 4% will graduate from college. They may have difficulties learning, trusting adults, or want to get far away from a broken system, thinking they can do better on their own.  Lack of family support, finances, work experience, and life training all make it more complicated and challenging.

Their reality may be bleak, but it doesn’t have to be; you can help.

everyone needs a personal cheerleader

Here are 10 ways you can help youth aging out:

  1. Be a friend (or cheerleader) – engage with them, listen to what they have to say (or ask for), care about their struggles, and help them find solutions.
  2. Be a tutor – if you are skilled in math, science, language or any other required courses offer to help youth who are struggling.
  3. Teach how to prepare healthy, tasty meals on a budget.
  4. Teach money skills and budgeting.
  5. Help them open a checking and savings account.
  6. Develop a scholarship fund or donate to an organization that helps with educational support.
  7. Donate household goods or clothing to local foster agencies.
  8. Donate school supplies to local foster agencies.
  9. If you own a business, offer discounts on services or goods to foster and aged out youth.
  10. If you own a business, hire a youth who is in or aged out of the system and teach them what you know.

Not sure how to go about offering your help and expertise to these vulnerable youth? Start by calling your local foster agencies and speak with the directors. Let them know you want to help and what you have to offer. Most likely, they will ask you to get fingerprinted and background checked in order to be around the children. Don’t take it personally; it’s standard practice.

There you have it, 10 ways to help youth aging out. Do you have other suggestions? We’d love to hear them and spread the word. #everychildmatters

How will you help?