This week’s infographic, produced by the Jim Casey Youth Opportunity Initiative, looks at what happens when youth age out of foster care at 18 and find themselves without proper supports. The organization’s mission is to “ensure that young people make successful transitions from foster care to adulthood”. The infographic comes from their Success Beyond 18 Campaign, which aims to spread awareness about the need to provide youth living in foster care with increased opportunities to succeed.
The infographic states that after youth living in foster care turn 18, in many US states they “age out” and are no longer part of the foster care system. Many of these youth find themselves in a precarious living situation, in the absence of supports, resources and guidance. Each of the aforementioned factors can play a critical role in ensuring youth a pathway to becoming a successful adult. Being cut off from their support network heightens the risk of experiencing loneliness, engaging in criminal activities and even experiencing homelessness.
For every young person who ages out of care in the United States, failure to bridge gaps in the social safety net results in high long-term costs for these youth and their communities. These social costs amount to $300,000 per youth who ages out of care. A closer look at the research methodology employed by the Jim Casey Youth Opportunity Initiative in reaching this figure reveals that the real cost per youth is likely significantly higher. At every point in the estimate where a choice had to be made between different cost figures, researchers “chose the lesser cost option, the bottom of the range, the conservative assumption and the simplest way to calculate.” Evidently, there are significant cost-savings to implementing changes to existing supports that can help these youth make a successful transition into adulthood.
Aging out of Care and Homelessness: The Canadian Context
While this infographic focuses on the youth aging out of care in the United States, Canada’s child protection system is also in need of reform. Although child protection, legislation and programming varies by province in Canada a lot of the times youth “age out” before they are ready for a complete transition to adult life.
Research demonstrates a significant relationship between adult homelessness and a history of living in foster care. A Raising the Roof study with street-involved youth found that 43% of survey respondents had also been in foster care. Recently, researchers at Simon Fraser University conducted a study using data from the At Home/Chez Soi project in Vancouver, British Columbia involving homeless adults with mental illness. Analysis of this data revealed that foster care placement was an independent predictor of failing to obtain a high school diploma, discontinuous work history and daily drug use.
Looking at a cost-benefit analysis by the Provincial Advocate for Children and Youth, research finds that effective reforms, which include extending support to the age of 25, would cost $26 million but save over $132 million on welfare and jail costs over 40 years.
When we consider the difficulties that youth aging out of foster care face, the need for continued support becomes all too clear. Failing to make the necessary supports and services accessible for these youth results in avoidable expenses for their communities and more importantly, demonstrates a lack of commitment on Canada’s part to their health and well-being.