What would your 18th birthday be like if you were in the foster care system, and never adopted?
By the age of 23, aged-out foster youth are 5 times more likely to be arrested and 4 times more likely to receive government assistance, with only 25% completing high school and 6% earning a college degree.
Aged out foster youth are among the most underserved, disconnected and statistically vulnerable segment of our community. Each year, approximately, 600 – 800 of NJ’s foster youth population ages out of state protective care. Many of these young men and women are not reunited with their families or placed into a permanent home. They lack the childhood experiences and opportunities that teach the skills and impart the confidence and self-esteem needed to become independent, self-sufficient adults. They have experienced physical and mental health problems stemming from childhoods marked by physical, emotional and sexual abuse. Commonly lacking adequate health care, basic life skills and necessary supportive human relationships to sustain them, the risks of homelessness, food insecurity, early pregnancy, poverty, addiction, incarceration, prostitution, interpersonal violence, and government dependency are much greater for aged out foster youth than for their peers.
As these young people approach adulthood, they face tremendous obstacles, including the unrealistic expectation that they will be able to succeed on their own without the support of close family relationships, adequate education, financial resources, or safe housing. The outcomes and costs of homelessness, poverty, unemployment, lack of education and incarceration are staggering for the individuals experiencing these conditions and their local communities. The Jim Casey Youth Opportunities Initiative reports that, on average, for every young person who ages out of foster care, taxpayers and communities pay $300,000 in social costs like public assistance, incarceration, and lost wages over that person’s lifetime, amounting to nearly $8 billion in social costs to the United States every year.
Thus, each youth we help to achieve independence lessens the enormous burden on our federal, state and local social service systems. Unfortunately, in New Jersey, there are few long term residential or case management programs for foster youth past the age of 21. Most programs end their support at 21 and offer assistance only in limited areas such as housing vouchers or employment counseling. These young people, however, require greater support as they often lack the education, job training, confidence and life skills needed to lead a healthy, productive and economically secure adult life. R&W provides innovative, wraparound programs and services aimed at remediating the deficiencies in education and socialization that result from unstable and often abusive childhoods.
Our graduates are overcoming the odds and doing what so many of us take for granted, living independent lives, integrated into their communities instead of lingering on the outskirts as victims of circumstance.