By Kevin Frazzini
Eighteen-year-olds have plenty to think about. Most are getting ready for college or trade school, some are planning to join the military and still others are entering the workforce.
Regardless of their plans, many of them have families to guide them through admissions and financial aid applications, to help them enlist in a service branch or to support them while they look for work.
For the roughly 18,000 kids who age out of the foster care system at 18 every year, it’s a different story. These teens haven’t been adopted, they don’t have relatives to live with and they can’t return home to their biological families, writes NCSL’s Nina Williams-Mbengue in this month’s State Legislatures magazine.
Many of these teens are on their own, with little support from caring adults. That puts them at greater risk of failing school and becoming pregnant, homeless, unemployed or incarcerated. State lawmakers recognize the challenges they face and are trying to make a difference in several ways.
One is raising the foster care exit age to 21. Federal law offers states financial reimbursement for youth who stay in foster care up to age 21 through Title IV-E of the Social Security Act. About 25 states and the District of Columbia take advantage of this option, which can result in kids achieving higher educational levels and greater economic successes.
Another strategy is to make a college education a real possibility for kids in foster care. By age 18, only 50 percent of young people in foster care have graduated from high school, and only 20 percent of those who graduate go to college. Because the biggest obstacle is cost, 28 states now offer tuition waivers or scholarship programs to former foster kids. Less common are programs to help former foster students navigate the maze of college applications, forms and financing.
Williams-Mbengue reports on four more strategies lawmakers are using to help teens transition from foster care to lives as independent adults. Read the full story here.
Kevin Frazzini is the assistant editor of State Legislatures magazine.