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Op-ed

Teens aging out of foster care amid COVID-19 pandemic need more support | GUEST COMMENTARY

As the COVID-19 pandemic continues to devastate the United States, young adults are facing the consequences of becoming emancipated from foster care.  (Francine Orr / Los Angeles Times)

As the COVID-19 pandemic continues to devastate the United States, young adults are facing the consequences of becoming emancipated from foster care. Once a young person turns 18 years old, they are legally no longer a child and cannot be considered as a foster placement. Those who age out of foster care must adjust to living independently and facing a great deal of adversity. They are expected to move out and start their lives on their own amid an ongoing pandemic. The teens will find themselves in need of jobs, a place to liveand a means of transportation just to survive. The goal of foster care programs should be to support teens that age out of the system by making sure that they have successful transitions into self-sufficiency.

In a 2021 article published in the National Alliance to End Homelessness, an estimated 20% of young adults will experience homelessness in the first four years after aging out of foster care. They are removed from the only housing, health careand educational support they have in their lives. Many of them fail to find a permanent place to live and end up sleeping on the streets, public transportation, or in vehicles during a pandemic. Those who age out of foster care are at increased risk for several adverse adult outcomes, including homelessness, poverty, high unemployment rates, incarcerationand low educational attainment.

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Young adults who age out of foster care are put in the middle of an affordable housing crisis. The prospect of owning a home has become worse amid the pandemic. Mortgage rates and rents have increased in recent months. Landlords have raised rental prices across America due to inflation. Furthermore, there is a shortage of homes in the U.S. The rising cost of fuel, construction materials, and building maintenance have also led to higher prices being passed on to renters. Those who age out may not be able to afford a place to live.

Often, children are placed in foster care due to being abandoned, neglected, or abused by their parent or guardian. Youth in the foster care system have gone through multiple traumas and disruptive events by the time they finally began their transition to young adults. COVID-19 has negatively affected the mental health of many Americans and youth in the foster care system already have preexisting mental health issues. Their life experiences in foster care can create multiple problems resulting in depression, post-traumatic stress disorder, anxiety disorders, alcohol or substance abuseand delinquent activities. All of these challenges impact the emotional, behavioraland social development of foster care youth as they transition into adulthood.

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Many scholars do not want to be criticized for supporting the idea that poor people are responsible for their own poverty and negative social outcomes. A 2020 article published in BU Today shows “blaming the victim” is a popular view that people are poor because there is something morally wrong with them. However, this belief is simply not true. Some people do not have access to good paying jobs or quality education. William Julius Wilson, a sociologist and a professor at Harvard University has suggested poverty is inherited, and many children are born poor. In 2017, he published an article for the Poverty & Race Research Action Council asserting that children who are born poor are not responsible for their own poverty and negative social outcomes.

It is well documented that older children in the U.S. are less likely to be adopted than younger children. A 2021 article published in The Atlantic, reported adoption rates have decreased significantly as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. Those who are not adopted are at risk of being homeless, contributing to a societal issue that affects many urban areas. Homelessness has a huge impact on communities as it poses a threat to public health and compromises public security.

Foster youth need good relationships with trusted adults or a supportive family to help them thrive into adulthood. Reaching a certain age does not mean that they would prefer to be on their own. To ensure that they can thrive, policymakers should suspend aging out to allow foster youth to stay in care past the state-mandated emancipation date. Extending foster care to age 21 can give young adults more time to find stable employment and learn the skills needed to become self-sufficient. Foster care programs need to help aging out youth with educational opportunities to develop independence that will lead to more employment opportunities and the ability to afford housing. The more time that is spent improving their lives in foster care, the more positive outcomes they will have as adults.

David Wilkins (dawil82@morgan.edu) is a graduate student studying sociology at Morgan State University.


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