How to best serve the needs of youth aging out of foster care? The law may believe they’re old enough for independent living, but in reality the barriers to doing so can feel insurmountable. It’s a challenging question for even the most seasoned child welfare professionals, but there are actions that government agencies and non-profit organizations can take that tangibly improve the lives of transition- age youth.
When designing and implementing these programs, it’s important to keep a few criteria in mind:
- Engage a wide variety of stakeholders in the process, especially youth who know firsthand what it’s like to age out.
- Invest long-term. Transitioning out of foster care is not a quick process, but one that with the right time, care, and funding, is invaluable for youth.
- Don’t reinvent the wheel. Instead, provide more resources for successful programs that already exist.
- Invest in systems coordination to reduce barriers. Whether across state agencies, organizations, or even within a single organization, it’s critical that all of these departments work together to ensure youth can access the services they need.
Overall, programs should emphasize empowerment and access. While leaving foster care is inevitable, there is much more that can be done to center youth voices and support their short and long term needs. As AYPF emphasizes, we have to change the narrative from simply “transitioning out of foster care” to “transitioning to opportunities.”