Your 18th birthday is fast approaching. You have butterflies in your stomach thinking about the freedom adulthood will finally bring. You’re excited to spread your wings, head to college, pick a major…. Your parents have supported you and cheered you on, and they’re not too far away if you need them.
Now picture this…
Your 18th birthday is fast approaching. You’ve spent the majority of your life in foster care. 18 feels as though the floor is dropping out from under you and you have no idea where you will land. It’s your dream to go to college, but you have no clue how to make that happen. You’re terrified, anxious, and feel a lot older than 18.
For teens in foster care, turning 18 offers a very different reality. They don’t have that safe place to go when things get hard, or the caring adults to call when they need advice. While nothing compares to the forever family every child deserves, there are systems and resources in place for teens who are at risk of “aging out” of the foster care system.
Indiana DCS has a division for Older Youth Initiatives, which includes multiple programs that can begin as early as 16. The 3 programs under the Older Youth Initiatives umbrella are Older Youth Services, Collaborative Care, and Voluntary Older Youth Services.
What are Older Youth Services?
Older Youth Services (OYS) is designed for teens who are likely to turn 18 while in foster care, to help the youth access resources that will help with their transition into adulthood. These resources include things like housing assistance, health insurance, driver’s education, specialized career training and college bridge programs. The purpose of all of these resources: to teach older youth how to function independently, and to equip them with life skills they’ll need but may not have been taught to them previously.
OYS is designed to meet the individual’s specific needs, and the teams that offer these services understand that each teen comes to the program at a different point in their life path. Some have a high school diploma; others don’t. Some are ready to live independently; others aren’t quite there yet. Some may want to pursue a college degree while others are looking for their first job. The program is specifically intended to offer a breadth of services that can be tailored to what each youth needs.
What is Collaborative Care?
This is essentially extended foster care up to age 21. While the program is similar to OYS in its end goal – to help young adults transition to self-sufficiency – the eligibility requirements differ. In order to participate, a youth must be pursuing an education (high school, GED, trade school, post-secondary education, etc.); participating in an Independent Living Program; employed at least 80 hours/month; or have a medical condition that prevents them from meeting one of the other criteria. A Collaborative Care Case Manager (3CM) works with the youth to ensure they’re meeting their responsibilities and are actively involved in planning for their future.
OK, so then what happens at 21?
Some youth need additional support even after they turn 21, so Indiana offers Voluntary Older Youth Services, which can providing resources until a child’s 23rd birthday. Similar to other older youth programs, Voluntary Older Youth Services provides youth with a case manager who works with them to develop a plan to achieve independence and accept personal responsibility by the time they are 23. The goal of this program (and all Older Youth Initiatives) is to set each individual up for success, even if success looks different for each person.
Does this mean that older youth don’t need permanent families, since they have resources until they’re 23?
Absolutely not! The reality is that youth who age out of foster care, whether they’re 18 or 21 or 23, have significantly worse outcomes than youth raised in loving, stable homes. Every year, over 24,000 teens age out of foster care in the US. That’s a big number.
Studies show that for these teens, life gets (a lot) harder. Within 2-4 years of leaving foster care,
- 40% are homeless
- 40% experience drug or alcohol use
- 46% have not finished high school
- 51% are unemployed
- 84% are parents
What can you do to help if you don’t work in child welfare?
- Volunteer with Foster Success, an organization that actively supports young adults who are aging out of the system. They have many volunteer opportunities, from reviewing resumes to stuffing stockings at the holidays. We’re big fans of Foster Success, and encourage you to explore how you can get involved with them.
- Become a mentor with Trusted Mentors – they have a program specifically designed to mentor foster youth who are aging out. (There’s also a national mentor registry at MENTOR National, with 5,000+ partners around the country.)
- Donate housewares (everything from lamps to towels to measuring cups) to local organizations that help these young adults establish their first apartment.
- Employers can offer training opportunities or jobs. If you’re not sure where to start, reach out to Foster Success about getting involved in their Workforce Readiness program.
- Landlords can offer housing to youth who are getting on their feet after aging out. Housing developers have a great opportunity to establish housing dedicated to youth who have aged out of foster care. (See Pando Aspen Grove in Indianapolis and The Courtyard in Fort Wayne.)
- If you’re a mental health professional, consider getting involved with A Home Within, which offers free therapy to current and former foster youth. (They don’t currently have an Indiana chapter, but you can still volunteer your services.)
And if you’ve ever thought about adopting, this is the perfect opportunity to take that next step to benefit the most in-need population! There are so many reasons to consider adopting a teenager – learn more about it directly from families who have taken the leap, or fill out the form on our website. We’re so grateful to the people and organizations who support Indiana’s older youth who are aging out…but think how much better it would be to change the statistics and provide loving, stable, committed families for these young people instead.