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Newsweek article highlights plight of teens aging out of foster care

Last week, Newsweek posted a web exclusive recounting the story of John Kyzer, a Los Angeles youth who was recently forced out of a group foster home because he’d turned 18 — and soon afterward found himself out on the streets, homeless and unemployed.

An article in this week’s LA Weekly tells an even more harrowing story of teens in similarly dire situations, sneaking into abandoned buildings and other places around the city where they can find a place to sleep.

Approximately 25,000 young adults nationwide will age out of foster care this year, turned out with neither permanent families to rely on nor the support they need to make a successful transition into life as independent adults.

And many will face a future similar to John Kyzer’s — or worse. Research has shown that teens who age out of the system have an increased likelihood of experiencing homelessness, poor health, unemployment, incarceration, and other poor outcomes.

So what can be done?

Last October, the federal government passed landmark legislation aimed at improving outcomes for children in foster care (including a provision on child welfare workforce issues shaped by joint research and advocacy by Children’s Rights and the Children’s Defense Fund). One key provision offers federal matching funds to states that extend voluntary foster care up to age 21, as California is now considering. New research (PDF) by the University of Washington School of Social Work on California’s child welfare system suggests that this could go a long way toward preventing more teenagers from struggling as John Kyzer is.

But a far better way to improve outcomes for our nation’s foster care population — and a key mission of Children’s Rights’ advocacy — is to prevent kids from aging out altogether. Our national policy advocacy and state and local reform campaigns seek to ensure that state child welfare systems move children out of foster care and into permanent homes as quickly as possible, through either safe reunification with their biological parents or adoption.

We also seek to ensure that while children are in foster care, they’re placed with families — where they’ll have the stability and receive the attention that’s critical to every child’s healthy development — rather than in group homes like the one John Kyzer was forced to leave. (Children placed with families are also far more likely to get adopted than children placed in group facilities.)

In the meantime, Children’s Rights will continue to support efforts to help young adults successfully navigate the transition out of foster care. We supported advocacy efforts calling for the long-overdue adoption of the National Youth in Transition Database — the tracking system mentioned in the Newsweek piece for teens entering adulthood — and the passage of the recent federal legislation. We have also conducted our own study of youth aging out of foster care in New York City, and have undertaken research and advocacy on many other child welfare issues. You can learn more about Children’s Rights’ policy work here.

Meanwhile, take the time to give the Newsweek piece a look. It’s an important reminder of why we must keep fighting for better child welfare systems nationwide — and brighter futures for the more than 500,000 children who depend on them.