Each year, about 1,000 young people age out of foster care, and all of them face overwhelming challenges at the tender age of 21. They must secure and maintain their own housing, food, employment, education and healthcare. Yet, many youth who age out are ill-equipped to handle these important responsibilities well, and many fall victim to the pitfalls of living life in poverty without a safety net. Without adequate support, many of these youth become homeless, suffer from malnutrition, and get by without health services or insurance.
Earlier this winter with help from our friends at the Community Service Society, Children’s Aid co-hosted a policy forum at The New York City Bar Association called “Whatever it Takes” to devise ways to prevent and address youth disconnection. The full day forum on December 2, 2011, co-sponsored by Child Welfare Organizing Project, Citizens’ Committee for Children, The Committee for Hispanic Children and Families, Schuyler Center for Analysis and Advocacy, and The Annie E. Casey Foundation, yielded one very important takeaway—youth disconnection is a problem that we can solve.
Our forum provided an opportunity to bring together a diverse group of advocates, providers and youth to discuss our common concerns regarding youth disconnection. It offered us a chance to share information and discuss how preventive services, evidenced-based service models, community-based supports and long-term, comprehensive action can work in preventing youth disconnection.
We will continue our work to ensure that youth aging out of foster care, like Julio, have the resources and opportunities they need to become happy and productive adults. This is a large challenge – only 6% of youth who have been in foster care ever graduate college, the single most important indicator of positive lifelong outcomes. However, it is not an insurmountable challenge as the numbers of youth – about 1,000 per year – are fairly low and we know who they are since they have already been involved in the system.
During the policy forum we engaged those who could not attend using social media and have continued the conversation in our Facebook group. Some of the best ideas for tackling this issue were posted in social media and we invite you to join the conversation.
Youth disconnection is a problem that we have the tools and the ability to solve, and together we can make a difference.