Numbers, Facts and Trends Shaping Your World

Beyond Foster Care

States Extend Help to 18-Year-Olds Facing Bleak Futures on Their Own

by Christine Vestal, Staff Writer

In most states, youths in foster care are on their own when they turn 18.

That’s because federal funding for payments to foster parents and group homes is cut off when foster kids reach 18, leaving those who have not been adopted or returned to their families to fend for themselves, with little state support.

Two states are footing the bill to help foster-care youths who turn 18. Vermont this year became the second state, after Illinois, to use state money to extend its foster-care services to age 21, if a youth chooses to remain in the program. While other states have adopted programs to help youths who are “emancipated” from foster care without permanent homes, states say their options are limited without federal funding.

For those living in group homes, “kick out” happens within days of their 18th birthday, explained Robin Nixon of the National Foster Care Coalition, an advocacy group for children. “They sometimes end up sitting on a curb with their belongings in a black trash bag and nowhere to go,” she said.


Foster care alumna, Kristal McCoy, graduated from California State University, Hayward in 2006. (Photo courtesy Kristal McCoy)

Kristal McCoy, 23, who spent eight years in the foster-care system, became homeless at the end of her freshman year at California State University, Hayward, and started “couch surfing” with friends or relatives. Although the stress took a toll on her grades, McCoy graduated and now has a full-time job at the California Youth Connection, which lobbies for increased state support for foster youths.

McCoy beat the odds, but many others don’t. Of more than 24,000 youths who leave foster care each year without a family, one in four is incarcerated within the first two years, according to a new report – Time for Reform: Aging Out and On Their Own – by a project of the The Pew Charitable Trusts that is pushing for changes in how the federal government funds foster care. The Trusts also funds, a news site that does not engage in advocacy.

One in five becomes homeless at some time after age 18; only 58% complete high school, compared to 87 percent of youths in the general population; and only 3% earn college degrees, compared with 28% in the general population, according to the study.

While the total number of children in foster care has decreased over the past decade, the number of teens who “age out” of the program without finding permanent homes has increased 41% since 1998, the report found.

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