Aging out is a term used to describe foster youth who turns the age of 18, the child goes from being a part of the foster system to being on their own (Munson et al., 2013, p. 921). Foster youth aging out of the system must accomplish tasks that other children do not face. Most young people begin the transition to adulthood from the security of their family’s home, runaway and homeless youth and youth leaving foster care may have to find their own housing (Osgood et al. 2010, p. 214). Deficiencies in family support is a common challenge most foster youth face when aging out of the system; this is significant in helping a child transition to adulthood. Studies show that youth in the general population normally receive support from their families and even when they do not receive support, they know it would be there in their time need.
As foster youth age out of the system into adulthood, they begin feeling alone, insecure, and overwhelmed. Some foster youth will not know or remember their biological parents and will be abruptly discharged from foster care with little support or assistance, which negatively impacts their transition into adulthood (McGuinness & Schneider, 2007, Pg. 300). Foster youth who age out of the system shouldn’t be forced to enter the real world without preparation because they are being set up for failure.
Emerging into adulthood and aging out foster care can be a challenging time for most for most foster youth. Fowler, Toro, and Miles (2011) conducted a study called “The Present Study”, which interviewed 265 19- to 23-year-olds who retrospectively reported on three main contexts of emerging adulthood: housing security, educational achievement, and employment attainment in the first two years after leaving foster care. This study examined the support young adults receive as they age out of the foster care system.
The study revealed that a number of the participants lack support such as parental connections, housing, and stable work or school involvement suggesting that former foster youth face many challenges as they transition into adulthood (Fowler et al., 2011, p. 337). These findings support the Arnett’s theory of emerging adulthood; particularly the individualistic indicators of what it means to be an adult (i.e., self-reliance, responsibility). Emancipated foster youth need all of the support they can get when they age out of the system; this is one of the most challenging stages of their life because of how much they lose.
When foster youth age out of the system they lose housing, healthcare access, financial assistance, and they often lose contact with social workers or case managers. Some foster youth aging out are fortunate enough to move in with their extended family members; some are even lucky enough move into special living situations, such as institutional care facilities, but many foster youths are freed out of the system and begin life on their own as adults (Atkinson, 2008, p. 183). Foster youth leave the homes they have lived in and the communities they know and are often expected to transition into self-sufficiency overnight.
At 18 years old, these youth are expected to achieve a level of independence most individuals do not find until they are in their early to mid-twenties. After aging out these youth lose their access to most services and the elements of life that have helped sustain them, they also lose a support system. When life becomes overwhelming, these youth have no homes to return to and no reliable adults to whom they can seek advice and aid from (Atkinson, 2008, p.183). Children are taken away from their parents from the government with the idea that they will be placed with better parents. Instead, they enter a far more dangerous environment; foster youth face a significant number of problems that no individual should ever face.