Exposing the risks of remaining in foster care too long — and the reasons why kids get trapped

Just a few weeks ago, we highlighted articles in Newsweek and LA Weekly about the formidable challenges facing young people aging out of foster care in Los Angeles — forced out of child welfare systems with no family and scant resources, desperately searching for work and places to sleep at night.

Yesterday, The New York Times turned its spotlight on former foster care youth facing similar challenges closer to Children’s Rights’ home in New York City, in an article noting the additional hardships of aging out in a city hit increasingly hard by the recession.

As we’ve noted previously, the risks for these teens are exceptionally high under the best of circumstances. Young people who age out of foster care are disproportionately likely to experience homelessness, health problems, unemployment, incarceration, and other poor outcomes.

But in a job market suddenly flooded with people out of work due to the economic crisis, former foster care youth have it particularly hard.

“I feel overlooked all the times I do go apply for these jobs,” says one young man quoted in the Times piece. “But I have to do this, or else I’ll be out on the street.”

Aging out is a key concern of Children’s Rights’ advocacy, here in New York and across the United States. Our policy research seeks to understand the reasons why kids linger for many years in foster care without returning home or getting adopted, and our policy and legal advocacy aims to fix the systemic problems that stand in the way of better outcomes for children and families.

Right now, in fact, we’re working on a major study of the barriers that keep children in New York City foster care from regaining the stability of permanent homes — individually reviewing the cases of 150 children who have languished in foster care for two years or more while being slated for reunification or adoption, and meeting with child welfare workers, parents, foster parents, and others working in the child welfare system who have firsthand insight into why the system fails to move quickly enough in getting these kids out of foster care.

We’ll release a report of our findings and recommendations this summer, which can serve as an important resource for the many child welfare systems across the country that struggle with this issue.

More immediately, we will advocate strongly in partnership with others for the implementation of key recommendations here in New York City — so that, in the future, fewer teens will have to confront the difficult realities of adult life without the support of the families they deserve and desperately need.