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By Shay Stinson

Aging out can be a scary thought for older foster children. This is the moment when the responsibilities of the foster care system have expired for youth of a certain age—21 years of age to be exact. It doesn’t, however, have to be met with negative outcomes. That’s why we must rephrase the term “aging out” to “aging forward.” They’re moving forward in life and accessing new opportunities.

As foster care providers, we must create more intensive programs to develop foster youth job skills and independent living skills. Seraaj Family Homes, Inc. is now offering Microsoft Office Certification programs for anyone, especially children, interested in gaining skills to help navigate the corporate world. As more programs like these are developed, the statistics for children exiting foster care will improve. Providers must be prepared to assist them with aging forward, instead of aging out.

Becoming an adult has a lot of moving parts. One of those parts that a young person must figure out is choosing their professional path. We all must decide what path we want to take and what are the goals we want to achieve. Usually, we’re all asked, “What do you want to be when you grow up?” By age 18, some young adults have an idea of what they want to pursue as a path to adulthood. There are many different paths to choose from. The choices alone can be overwhelming. Children exiting the foster care system may not have as many choices or as easy of a path as children that have not experienced life in the system. Let’s discuss some of these paths.

Traditional college is a popular path. For this path, we assess what our passions and interests are and search for a college that can develop these curiosities and prepare us for a career. Joining the workforce is an eager step for young people who are ready to provide for themselves. With responsible choices the workforce path can quickly provide income for independent living.

While some children have the option of staying at home with their family until they find a job (which can be a long and difficult process sometimes) or can afford to get a place of their own, many foster youths don’t have these options. Service in the military is a viable path for those youth that desire hands-on training and skill sets and who may need an immediate living situation that they can’t readily provide on their own. In the military they may find several options for developing career skills.

All these choices are available to young emerging adults. Foster children should be given the same choices as any young adult, but the reality is, as statistics say, their choices are limited. According to sharedjustice.org:

“The statistics are devastating. By age 26, only three to four percent of youth who aged out of foster care earn a college degree. One in five of these youth will become homeless after turning 18. Only half will obtain employment by 24. Over 70 percent of female foster youth will become pregnant by 21, and one in four former foster youth will experience PTSD.”

While the statistics are dim, the hope is gleaming that there are ways to assist foster children transitioning from foster care to self-sufficient adulthood. One suggested method is advocating for late-age adoption. After age 16, it becomes challenging to get children adopted out of foster care. There are also mentorship programs that are reaching into this community of budding adults to guide and teach them unconventional ways to succeed in adulthood. Some focus on trades and skilled labor and offer group housing options. Mentorship can be a very useful tool for young adults that have life-changing decisions to make. With preparation and help, youth in foster care should be able to successfully age forward and begin their lives with optimism and hope.

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