The Children's Institute Blog

Older Youths and Foster Care: You Can Change The Statistics

Posted: Nov 20, 2017 by The Children's Institute

He was 16 years old and had spent most of his life in the system, from residential treatment centers to foster care homes that never led to adoption. A Wayne County native, he had been separated from his biological sister and taken across Pennsylvania. He had intellectual disabilities, and had suffered from physical abuse and neglect.

“I remember printing out a map of Pennsylvania. I starred each place he had been to, whether it was a treatment facility of a foster-care family,” said Katie Ashman, his case worker at Project STAR. “I remember going to a supervisor and asking, ‘Should I share this with him?!’ It was overwhelming how many places he had been.”

Nearly two out of every five youths who do not fins permanency with a family – who we profile today as part of National Adoption Awareness Month – will go homeless or “couch-surf” in their young-adult lives. They are three times more likely than peers who live with biological parents to receive special-education. They are twice more likely to suffer post-traumatic stress disorder than Gulf War veterans. Less than two percent of them will go on to earn a college degree but more than 270,000 of them are now in prison.

But, there is hope.

“There are things we kind of put on the table for them,” Katie said. “It’s about just finding them that one family who can look past their challenges, work and support them, and not give up, and give them a chance.”

Bethany Leas, Project STAR’s manager of placement services, said many of these challenges can be solved through education and awareness.

“It’s fear of the unknown, a fear of perceived behaviors,” Bethany said. “But there are families out there. We have seen these families and we have seen these young adults go on to be successful.”

“There are families that are committed and do this and change these kids’ lives,” she added. “People can be the change. They are the catalysts to change these statistics.”

Katie and Bethany agreed a lot of the issue is the need to change perceptions of older youth – especially with families or adults starting on the foster-care journey.

Katie worked with the 16-year-old boy for two years and he later went back to a foster-care family across Pennsylvania.

It’s also important to work toward the change you wish to see, as families and professionals, Bethany stressed.

“It’s do-able, it’s possible,” she added. “One family can be the change these kids need.”

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