Every Year 20,000 Youth Age Out of Foster Care with Little Support

Issue Spotlight: Transition-Age Youth (TAY) in Foster Care

Do you remember being 21 years old? Maybe you have memories of signing your first lease, going off to college, searching for jobs or trying to find yourself. Oh, a time of change and endless possibilities… and stress, confusion and the overwhelming feeling of “having no idea how to do this”. Imagine how much harder this might be without family support. Someone to co-sign a lease with you, hand down dishes and furniture for your new place, or put in a good word for a job. And beyond practical help, a loved one to provide emotional support and guidance through life transitions.

Well, every year in the United States over 20,000 youth (18-24 years old) age out of foster care with very little or no support navigating significant life changes. According to the Jim Casey Initiative, 1 out of 5 transition-age youth will be homeless after age 18, over half will not graduate high school, fewer than 2% will earn a college degree by age 25, and by the age of 24, only half will be employed. These alarming statistics tells us about the challenges TAY face, but do not tell us who they are and why they so desperately need our support.

We had an interview with Kelly Sullivan, Connections Specialist at the Coalition. Having aged out of foster care herself, Kelly is passionate about advocating and supporting TAY. Using her personal and work experience she is on a mission to find ways for these youth to been seen and know they are loved.

YC: What are you most passionate about when it comes to working with TAY?

KS: I really want foster transition-age youth to know that someone respects their story and is willing to take the time to understand who they are as a result. Through honoring who they are and what they’ve been through, I hope that I can help them move forward with their goals and improve their wellbeing. Like the Carl Sagan quote, “You have to know the past to understand the present.” When children and youth are separated from their families, their stories, ties, and wellbeing become severed. I hope that by pasting together their stories with them, we can begin to change their narratives and Internal Working Models.

YC: What do we want our community to know about TAY?

KS: TAY is an age group that tends to confuse adults. I don’t think they are that complicated really. Youth want to feel loved, respected and cared for. They are at an age where they are meant to question and explore their identity. Adding systemic involvement and trauma to this developmental stage means that they need more help getting through these years. I think being playful, accepting, curious and empathetic (PACE-ful) with foster TAY is essential.

YC: What promising initiatives do you see on the horizon?

KS: I believe that once Developmental Trauma is added to the DSM, it will bring a new level of awareness to communities about why we actually see the types of behavioral responses that occur with foster TAY. It will help us to understand the types of therapeutic interventions and individualize their transition plans.

I also believe that systems are moving more toward interdependence versus independence. Our society has a high esteem toward individualism, however, human beings are a social species. We need each other for survival and TAY are no different. We shouldn’t expect them to age out of state custody without a myriad of supports in place with the emphasis being on relational supports.

YC: How does your program affect this population?

KS: Because the outcomes for older youth who age of state custody are so poor, older youth are a focus in all Coalition programs. We focus on preventing all children in foster care from reaching a point where they age out without supports. Training and supporting caregivers for this group is especially important. Once caregivers are trained through programs such as Family Works and supported by Educational Advocacy and The Dennis and Judy Jones Family Foundation Foster Care & Adoption Program, they can serve foster transition-age youth in a more meaningful and healing way.

If you would like to learn more about how to support the Coalition’s work with foster TAY contact Yanelis Castillo, Director of Mission Engagement at yaneliscastillo@foster-adopt.org.

Keep an eye out for our next blog highlighting Dyadic developmental psychotherapy (DDP).

Kelly Sullivan, Connections Specialist at the Coalition

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