Columbia University Mailman School of Public Health

Let’s Give Young People Who Have Aged Out of Foster Care More to Be Thankful for at Thanksgiving

Despite its historical roots as a day of giving thanks for the fruits of the harvest, Thanksgiving has come to be associated with the Macy’s Day Parade, the presidential pardon of a lucky turkey, and a day of non-stop televised football.  But, above all, our modern-day Thanksgiving is considered a time for family. Unfortunately, many young people who have aged out of foster care don’t have the types of family connections they can be thankful for as this national holiday approaches.

More than 21,000 children across the nation aged out of foster care last year when they were between 18 and 21 years old. These young people, many of whom no longer have a family connection of any kind, are at high risk for a variety of adverse outcomes –– from high unemployment and economic hardships to homelessness, incarceration, and sexual and physical victimization.

All children want the same thing –– a loving, permanent family.  And the most important predictor of success among youths who have aged out is strong, positive relationships. However, their ability to establish an independent life is severely hampered by the lack of connection to a loving family or caring adult.  Even the most determined, focused young person needs someone who can answer such vital questions as “How do I do this?” or “What should I do now?” And a hug or a pep talk when things don’t go as planned is equally important and sorely needed by these youths.

As we approach this season of giving, how do we give to one of the most vulnerable groups of young people in America?  Each of us can play a role in helping ensure that no young person ages out of foster care alone, with guidance from several noteworthy organizations.

Foster Care to Success is the oldest and largest national nonprofit organization helping young people transition from foster care to adulthood through education. Working with college-bound youth, the organization has helped over 50,000 young people who have aged out of the foster care system navigate academia, learn to be fiscally responsible, set achievable career goals, and develop support networks by providing tuition grants, money for books, living stipends, emergency funding, academic coaches, personal mentors, care packages, and internship opportunities.

LifeSet Network, established in 2015 as a partnership with Youth Villages, has as its goal to build the world’s largest support network for youth aging out of foster care. Individuals register as supporters, create a profile, and offer social and/or financial assistance. Young people who have aged out of the foster care system also register, create a profile, and list their needs.

Other organizations such as Foster More, Children’s Rights, and Foster Club are a source of information and support for young people who have aged out of the system.  They also encourage caring people to become mentors, make donations, and be advocates.

As a nonpartisan public policy research center dedicated to promoting the economic security, healthy development, and well-being of poor children in America, the National Center for Children in Poverty is especially concerned about the lives and futures of youth in an aging out of foster care.  NCCP has focused attention on the health care needs of this population via its recent policy brief Fostering Health: The Affordable Care Act, Medicaid, and Youth Transitioning from Foster Care . The report provides an overview of the health needs of young people in and aging out of foster care; describes the coverage to be provided to former foster youth via the ACA, the restrictions that have been applied, and the major reason for opposition to coverage; and makes recommendations to legislators and states for removing barriers to access.  Also highlighted is the need to ensure that young people have the knowledge and skills to use their health care coverage.

Our government, as the legal parent of kids in foster care before they age out, must take seriously their responsibility for ensuring that these youths continue to be cared for in ways that enhance their ability to make a successful transition to adulthood. A leader among organizations committed to this focus is Jim Casey Youth Opportunities Initiative, which is working nationally as well as in states to improve policies and practices, promote youth engagement, apply evaluation and research, and create community partnerships to ensure that every young person leaving foster has the opportunities and support needed for a successful transition to adulthood.

NCCP applauds the efforts of all of these organizations to support youths who have aged out of the foster care system. Let’s contribute to their efforts in all the ways we can to help make next Thanksgiving a happier one for many more of them.

Renée Wilson-Simmons
NCCP Director