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Aging Out of Foster Care System: Problems and Programs of Young Adults

(Author: Clarrisse Abbott)


This study examined the struggles that young adults will have after leaving the foster care system. My research was to find what the initial problems were and find out why they had these struggles as they made their transition. I discovered that after they had transitioned, they struggled with being homeless, financial problems and dropping out of school. My prediction was that they were not getting any help from programs after they left the system. So I looked into programs that were out there that could assist them to make an easier transition. I focused on four programs that helped with homelessness, financial support for school and long term relationship. In the end, my results found that if these youths had funding, mentors, and preparation to enter adulthood, they would do better. I want to assist these youths by starting a program that could help them.



When youths in California age out the foster care system, are they having struggles getting into society? What problems are they having and should there be programs to help these young adults into society?

Data:  Data provided by Nsonwu, Dennison, & Long Aging states, that out of foster care is the vernacular used to describe the point at which a youth exits the formal home, educational, and financial systems of foster care and becomes self-sufficient. This departure from the foster care family happens when a young adult turns 18 years of age. The foster care children consist mostly of teens older than the age of 13, and the number of youth aging out has enlarged dramatically. In 1999, 17,909 youth aged out of the foster care system in the United States and by 2006, the number had increased by 50% to approximately 26,181 (2015).

The problem is some states, like Pennsylvania, kids in the foster system have to transition into the real world at 18 years old. Whereas California and some other states have raised the age to 21 years old. Some young women have not been prepared to leave the foster care system and can get into trouble. Most become homeless, have substance abuse or become incarcerated.  Eboni Baugh says, “Numbers of homeless youths are the products of the foster care system (Lenz-Rashid, 2004). Many youths who transitioned out of foster care reported being homeless at some point in time after being released. “Approximately 14% of males and 10% females report being homeless at least once since their discharge from foster care services” (Baugh, 2009). The struggle is there because these young women are forced to be adults because the system refused to pay for them after they reached adulthood. When in reality, most kids at 18 and 21 years old have their parents to help them to transition into the world, but not these young adults.

This problem was selected because I have two friends in Social Services who told me about the young women aging out the system. I rarely hear successful stories about them. I want to start a program that will help these young women to make an easier transition into the world. I will be that person that can help them to get jobs, housing and getting ready for college.


Burton’s Theory of Provention

            The theorist Burton (1989) says “provention depends on proactive strategies. Whatever “human nature” is, however, it tends not to be proactive, but reactive. Provention stops someone from having struggles before it has surfaced or occured. If we can help these young adults beforehand they leave the foster care system, they can be successful in society and not fail like others before them. Burton (1989) defines Provention as, doing something about the issues before they cause conflict it is like a presupposes prediction. We will see what went wrong with the other youths who aged out and help them do the opposite. With provention Burton (1989) says, to foresee what situations and conditions will cause the conflict and avoid it.  The prediction will be data and context from the past. So this is where the research will help me.

My goal will be to help find what went wrong with these young adults. I will then follow Burton’s Provention to help collect data that will change these youths. The purpose will be to prevent these young adults from having any struggles and having an easier transition into society. I believe that having programs in place will help them to transition. Once my research is completed I will know which way to go for helping these young adults.


California Aging-Out Law History

             In 2010, Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger signed a bill in California to raise the age for kids leaving the foster system from 18 to 21 years old. It was extended to help these young adults make the transition to adulthood and living on their own. There was a problem in California with these young adults becoming homeless or even incarcerated. The Wall Street Journal (author, year?) says that this new bill will help extend the money that the foster parents get to help house these young adults.  California will also have special housing for them however they have to be in school or working to stay in the program. The article also states that California has the most foster kids compared to other states.


Literature Review

            For years, the foster care system classified a person turning 18 years old or “majority” as an adult. Therefore, after turning 18, they would be released from the foster system into the world with no guidance or support. Turning 18 meant that all funding to help support these kids in the system stopped. When the law changed in some states “aging out” became 21 years, it gave an incentive for foster parents to keep them longer. However, a number of states have not increased aging out to 21 years, because they do not have the funds to keep supporting these young adults, so they are still turned loose into the world without guidance at 18.  In the article, Jim Casey Youth Opportunities Initiative (2010), it notes the following about the law: “The federal Fostering Connections to Success and Increasing Adoptions Act of 2008 is the law that provides support to states to extend foster care to age 21 for certain young people” (p. 1). By changing the law and extending their time could help these foster kids to develop the appropriate skills and put them on a path toward achievement.

In California, the age to leave the foster care system has changed from 18 to 21,but has it just become an extension date for foster parents to collect more money? Will these young people be trained and ready to go into the world.  A CNN article suggests that we are abandoning children in foster care (2014). For example, Adrian tells the story how at 18 years old he aged out the foster care system. He remembers not being ready to be alone in the world. Although he was in college, he worked 60 hours per week just to pay for his classes. He also spent holidays alone while other students went home to their families. It became too much for him and he dropped out of school (Soronen, 2014 ).  Research provided in the article by Casey (2010) stated that when leaving the foster system at 21 years old it had a better outcome, and the young adults had a better chance to attend college and enter an occupation. This law would have helped Adrian because he would have started college later and had support to help him finish.

Data from the Housing for Youth Aging out of Foster Care (2012) says, about 30,000 foster care youth age out of the foster care system each year. Many of them exit without finding a stable, affordable living arrangement, such as with a family or an alternative household (Dworsky, Dillman, Dion, Coffee-Borden, & Rosenau, 2012). Not having a place to go after exiting the system often results in homelessness. The article also shows that a projected, “14-30% of these adolescents will have a minimum one night of homelessness in the first one to three years following release of the foster care system” (Dworsky et al., 2012, pg 21).  Being homeless could result in them committing a crime to pay for food or even some type of shelter. According to LaFranks (2014, Emancipation Dilemma), “Schirch wrote examples of secondary violence emancipates endure include, involvement in self and community damaging behaviors – such as continuing the cycle of alcohol and drug abuse, self-mutilation, depression, victimization, domestic violence and crime”. This was also found to be accurate for aging out the system. These kids have had hard lives moving in and out of different homes. It can be hard on anyone to never have a stable home. Not being able to build a relationship to have that person to talk to about life.

Kids in the foster care system also have trouble when it comes to school. California recently did a study on how they tested in the school system: “In 2014-15, the first-year scores of the new, harder state tests were reported, only 18.8% of students in the foster care system met or exceeded standards in English/language arts, compared with 44.2% of their non-foster peers statewide (Resmovite, 2016, pg 3). Scores like this make it hard for these kids to get into college. The LA Times goes on to say, “In math, 11.8% of these students reached or beat the benchmarks, compared with 33.8% of non-foster students” (Resmovite, 2016, page1). They are not reaching the standards testing in the school system. The article (Resmovite, 2016) states that these kids will have problems in school because of what they went through in life being bounced back and forth from foster home to foster home. It was said that they also have issues because of what they went through like abuse or neglect from their parents. The article also states that most of these kids will eventually drop out of school. When they drop out of school the majority of the kids will hang out and not get the proper tools they need to succeed in life.

A longitudinal study done by Putnam-Hornsteina and King (2013) showed that girls in California who are neglected will be more likely to have babies in the foster system before the age 18. The article (Putnam-Hornsteina & King, 2013) stated:

Between 2003 and 2007 in California, there were 20,222 girls in foster care at age 17. Overall, 11.4% had a first birth before age 18. The cumulative percentage who gave birth before age 20 was 28.1%. Among girls who had a first birth before age 18, 41.2% had a repeat teen birth. Significant variations by race/ethnicity and placement-related characteristics emerged. Expanded data and rigorous research are needed to evaluate prevention efforts and ensure parenting teens are provided with the needed services and supports. (p.3)

These teen girls had more babies who put a strain on the foster care system to take care of these girls and their kids. Most of these girls will leave and be on their own depending on state aid. The New York Times (Anonymous, 2003) reported that they transitioned an old project building to living quarters for young girls who age out the system. The founder of the project thinks the kids leaving foster care are expected to become independent adults and it cannot happen. They do not have the experience financially and emotionally. This program helps them to be educated and employed and also healthy adults. They would be allowed to stay in the house long as they were finishing their education. This place would be a home and not just a house so that it will be permanent (Anonymous, 2003). In the article, California was known for having one of the largest numbers of foster kids. The state of California would help 900 children with beds. The kids leaving the system would need public assistance such as CalWORKs and GR programs because they would have trouble transitioning into adulthood. The article informed us that the aged out adults get an average pay $221-$704 a month for these programs listed above according to the New York Times (2003).

These recurring trials result in a variety of adverse outcomes during early adulthood, including difficulties with being self-sufficient. According to Courtney et al., (2010), studies have consistently shown that former foster youth have higher rates of unemployment and lower income levels than those in the general population.


Original Component

When doing my research, I not only looked at the problems these aged out youths are having, but also what programs are out there for these youths to succeed. Burton says Provention is reactive to the problem. By having programs ready for them it will hopefully stop these young adults from becoming homeless, committing crimes, having babies, or just depending on state welfare programs to get by. I will research different programs and list them below. I will at the end compare each program to each other.

The state of Mississippi has a program for kids aging out the system, which helps with lower tuition. The Journal of Blacks in Higher Education (2013) states, that this program was started because these young people needed help with college. Some had a hard time going to college because they did not have the income and state funding had been cut off. This is their way of removing barriers for them to get a higher education.  Jackson University has also extended the program for out-of-state foster youths by eliminating the out-of-state fees so it could be affordable to attend.

Every year the Chafee Foster Care Independence Program offers $140 million for independent living services to support youth as they come out of foster system and move into adulthood. Under this grant program, the 50 states are provided allocations and permitted to use up to 30% of program funds for housing for youth aged 18 to 21 who have transitioned into adulthood. This program is offered 90 days before the aging-out process has begun. This program requires the youth to sit down with a caseworker to develop a budget and a plan to show how they will meet their living expenses. Another requirement is that they have an income of some sort, from a job, educational support, or SSI. These funds will help with startup costs or rent until they are ready or saved enough to take the responsibility on their own. For example, California received $6,112,686 for an estimated 5,067 and Florida $2,120,323 for an estimated 1,456 youth leaving the foster care system in 2010 (U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, 2012).

In the real world, some young adults will rely on their families for emotional support and some financial assistance until they reach the age of 26. The foster youth who age out of the system do not have these options of turning to family. The Care to Success website says, “Annually, approximately 5,000 turn to Foster Care to Success (FC2S) for the support they cannot get from a parent or guardian”.  The support will include financial assistance for college in the form of scholarships and donations, family-like encouragement and care package, personal mentoring, and help with finding internships and employment skillset. The program will not just give all the students financial assistance but mentoring, career training, birthday and holiday cards and 24-7 over the phone assistance if they need it. They have to go through an application process to be selected into the program. This program is offered in Missouri and North Carolina.

A Home Within is a program that provides individual free psychotherapy to youths who aged out the system. They help to train these young adults to work on their traumatized experience, so they can start to heal and build better relationships going forward. The mission and vision of this program is to give these young adults at least one relationship with a consistent, caring person.  This program was founded in 1994, in San Francisco, CA by a group of therapists. The program claims to be the only national organization that is dedicated to helping and meeting the emotional needs of these young adults.  The staff consists of pro-bono therapists that have their best interest (, 2016).



I compared four different programs that offered help to aged-out youths to transition into the real world. The programs all had two main focuses in common giving emotional and financial support to these young adults that age out the foster system. The programs wanted to help these kids to succeed in life and not become a victim or lost in the system. Emotional support was important because sometimes former foster families may not want to deal with these foster youths after the funding is over. Kids not in the foster system have parents or guardians, which gives them adults to reach out to when they are having problems. Funding for college was another point shared by these programs, which was important because it could be hard for these young adults to work and focus on school after the funding from the foster care system has stopped. Scholarships and discounted tuition can help them to stay in college and focus on schoolwork.



The goals of my research were to find out what problems young adults in the foster system have after aging out and what programs were available to assist them with these problems. My research consists of a literature review and finding programs that were going through after they left the system.  This research has been done many times before; however, it remains a problem in America. By using the theory Provention we can take this research and improve on these programs to maybe help solve the issues that these young adults will have.

I predicted that there were problems, but I did not know what kind. I found that a number of them were becoming homeless and not finishing school. The study provided me with answers to why these youths were becoming homeless. It was said that they were not prepared to enter the world, and if they had more preparation and support, it would help. I also found out that low test scores from foster kids in grade and high school played a role in students drop-out rates. It did support my theory that there were issues with these young adults that leave the foster care system.

My next step was looking for programs to help these youths. My program findings pulled up a lot of programs that answered my questions too. They gave me lists of programs that focused on these issues of the aged-out youth. Most programs had goals to help them with college with financial support in the form of scholarships and discounted tuition rates. The programs also gave emotional support that helped some who gave up on school because they did not have a person to connect with. I believe that these programs would help address the problems, but they need to be nationwide. Most of these programs were based in certain states.

Finally, I believe the programs helped with real problems, for example, homelessness and all the programs helped with housing and startup money for a new place. Next was the issue of not finishing school and a large number of programs said that was their main goal for these young adults. They helped with scholarships. Lastly, was the feeling alone and being alone, so these programs offered a person to be a mentor and even sent out holiday cards.



In conclusion, the results of this study answered and provided some captivating information. I knew these aged-out youths may have had some issues after leaving the foster system, but becoming homeless and feeling loneliness was not what I predicted. I learned that the transition from foster care to the adulthood was traumatic when they were no longer being taken care of to having to fend for themselves in this big world. These kids need to be prepared to be out in the world and shown how to manage money, pay bills and develop work skills. They still need to have emotional support, someone to go to when they are having problems. Emotional support is also very important at the holidays. Just think of not having anyone to be with on Christmas or Thanksgiving. Just think of how lonely that could be. These kids would have more success if they had positive relationships.


References (2016). A home within changes lives because relationships heal. Retrieved December 3, 2016, from A Home Within :

Baugh, E. J. (2009). Journal of Extention . A popular at risk: Youth “Aging Out” of the Foster care system and implications for extension, 4.

Burton, J. W. (1989). On the need. Faifax: George Mason University.

Courtney, M., Dworsky, A., Lee, J., & Raap.M. (2010). Midwest evaluation of the adult functioning of former foster youth: Outcomes at ages 23- 24 . Retrieved from

Dworsky, A. (2005 ). The economic self-sufficiency of wisconsin’s former foster youth . Children and Youth Servives Review, 27, 1085-1118.

Dworsky, A., Dillman, K.-N., Dion, M. R., Coffee-Borden, B., & Rosenau, M. (2012). Housing for youth aging out of foster care. Washington: U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development.

Foster Care to Success. (n.d.). Programs. Retrieved December 3, 2016, from America’s College Fund for Foster Youths:

HBCUs. (2013, January 11). Jackson State University offers tuitions break to youth from foster care. Retrieved November 22, 2016, from The Journal of Blacks in Higher Education :

Jim Casey Youth Opportunities Initiative. (2010). Foster Care to 21: Doing it right. Lawyers for Children America, 1-8.

Naccarato, T., Brophy, M., & Courtney, M. (2010). Employment outcomes of foster youth: The results from the Midwest evaluation of the adult functioning of foster youth . Children and Youth Services Review , 551-559.

New York Times . (2003, April 21). More than a roof for girls leaving foster care. New York Times .

Nsonwu, M., Dennison, S., & Long, J. (2015). Foster care chronicles: Use of the arts for teens aging out of the foster care system. Journal Of Creativity In Mental Health, 18 – 30.

Pecora, P., Kessler, R., O’Brien, K., White, C., Williams, J., Hiripi, E., et al. (2006). Educational and employment outcomes of adult formerly place in foster care: Results from the Northwest Forster Care Alumnit Study . Children and Youth Services Review , 1459-1481.

Putnam-Hornsteina, E., & King, B. (2013). Cumulative teen birth rates among girls in foster care at age 17: An analysis of linked birth and child protection records from California. Child Abuse & Neglect, . . Los Angeles : University of Southern California .

Resmovite. (2016, September 22). For the first time, Californina releases test scores for foster youth-and they’re not good . Los Angeles Times .

Soronen, R. (2014 , April 17). We are abandoning children in foster care . Retrieved from CNN:

The Journal of Blacks in Higher Education. (2013, January 11). Jackson State University offers tuition break to youth from foster care. Retrieved December 3, 2016, from The Journal of Blacks in Higher Education:

U.S. Department of Health and Human Services . (2012). Housing assistance for youths who have aged out of foster care: The role of the Chafee Foster Care Independence Program . Retrieved from Http://



I want to say Thank You to Professor Margaret Manning, M.A., Dip.Ed; Adjunct Assistant Professor, NCRP

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