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Aging Out of Care, Running Out of Options

teen_handsThe unemployment crisis has touched nearly every community in America — according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics the national unemployment rate is just over 9 percent and the rate of underemployment is 16.6 percent.

But for youth aging out of foster care, the numbers are even more staggering:

In North Carolina, former foster youth earn significantly less than the average worker of the same age — in some cases 70 percentless.

In Illinois, Wisconsin, and Iowa, 48 percent of all former foster youth are unemployed by their 24th birthday.
Nationally, 51 percent of all former foster youth experience unemployment within 4 years of leaving foster care.

Every study about employment challenges after foster care reveals the same depressing fact: children forced to leave the foster care system without permanent families are too often left without the tools they need to succeed as adults. And the tragic effects of being unprepared for adulthood are seen in the disproportionately high rates of incarceration, drug abuse, homelessness, unplanned pregnancy and poor health among former foster youth.

Children’s Rights continues to fight to make sure abused and neglected kids get the chance they deserve to become healthy, productive adults. Through our campaigns for sweeping child welfare reform across the country, we have succeeded in forcing local and state officials to finally pay attention to this often-forgotten group and hold the system accountable to the children in their care.

While much remains to be done for this vulnerable population, Children’s Rights’ efforts in states like Tennessee are already paying off for young people like Porscha McCracken.

When Porscha first entered foster care, she bounced around homes before ending up in an institution. That could have been the end of the story for her — institutional care is closely associated with a wide range of negative outcomes for foster youth, including unemployment and poverty.

However, Children’s Rights’ strong advocacy and Tennessee’s commitment to reform helped ensure that Porscha finally had access to the services she needed to transition into adulthood. Her caseworker connected her to service providers that made sure she had reliable housing, access to continuing education and job opportunities.

The results can be seen in Porscha’s life after foster care; she works full-time for a non-profit organization during the day while going to school at night. When asked about her future, she looks to the past and thinks of how far she’s come.

“Growing up, I felt like I didn’t have any skills to succeed in life,” Porscha says “But because of all the changes that happened in Tennessee, I feel like I can have a career, I can have friends … I can have the family I never had.”

As for what it feels like to beat those long odds?

“Pretty awesome,” Porscha says “Yeah, pretty awesome.”