Foster care children are much more likely to become homeless and dependent on government programs once they have aged out of the system. This disturbing trend has been linked to the reality that foster care children lack education, job experience, and basic financial literacy at the time of exiting the program. Many states are attempting to make changes to this problem, but some steps are proving more effective than others. This research paper discusses the common trends found to improve the overall outcome of an exiting foster care child.
Two thirds of high school students have no financial literacy skills (Ferrell, 2004). In fact, there are many who will not even have completed a high school job prior to turning 18 years of age. Most high school students are able to fall back on the support and guidance of family during their first few years of independence. This is not the case for foster care children who age out of the system. Up until 1999, foster care children who aged out of the system received little to no preparation for life outside of their home. Being dismissed from their foster care home, some did not even have family that they could connect with and seek assistance. The result was homelessness, trouble with the law, and often tragedy. This trend is reversing thanks to the efforts of states to educate foster care children, but there is still more work to be done. The research study will review five reports from recent years that have determined necessary factors to ensure financial literacy and independence among foster care children.
The purpose of this research study is to examine the existing data on aged out foster children financial education and competency. For this portion of the study, research was conducted through various search engines and articles located within the field of study. The findings of this research suggest that the youth’s education of finances and basic life skills is severely limited to the point of being detrimental to providing an adequate life outside of the foster care system.
Aging Out of Foster Care
The article Aging Out of Foster Care, written by Melinda Atkinson, reviews the current United States policy for transitioning youth out of the system. The question posed in this review is whether the current system is sufficient in allowing youth the ability to care for themselves, or whether their life-preparedness education is lacking to a point that they are unable to function on their own.
According to her study, youth who age out of the system typically are not only unprepared for life, but their outcomes are so extreme that they remain dependent on the state for life. In her study, she states that, “Youths who ‘age out’ are more likely than their peers to suffer from homelessness, be involved in criminal activity, be uneducated, be unemployed, experience poverty, and lack proper healthcare.” Most youth exiting the system are unable to even secure housing and 1% of the general population of those aging out will experience homelessness for at least one night per year. Additionally, 40% of those in homeless shelters are from the foster care system. On average, youth exit the foster care program with less than $250, which is not enough to meet even the most basic needs.
The lack of common financial sense seems to stem from a lack of education. According to her research, half of the children in foster care will leave the program without a high school diploma. The public school system consistently offers its students a solid financial education. However, when the students fail to complete their education, they are missing this valuable information.
Aging Out of the Foster Care System: Challenges and Opportunities for the State of Michigan
This report, drafted by Gary Anderson Ph.D., further discusses the social implications of foster care on the overall financial education and life-skill ability of aged out foster care children. According to his research, the average income of an aging-out youth is less than $6,000, which is drastically less than the federal poverty amount of $7,890. This author proposes that the only means of ending the cycle and allowing foster care children the opportunity to gain the necessary financial knowledge is through government funded job and life-skills programs that prepare these children to enter the real world.
Unfulfilled Promise: The Dimensions and Characterics of Philadelphia’s Dropout Crises
This report by Ruth Neild and Robert Balfanz further emphasizes the need for high school retention rates among foster care children. According to this report, it can be predicted whether a student will drop out of high school, the primary institution where financial education is given, by their 8th grade year. The most common factor is receiving a failing grade in either math or English. With this knowledge, it is clear that those in the foster care system must be closely studied and interventions utilized to ensure they remain in school where this education can be achieved.
Preparing Our Kids for Education, Work and Life
According to this report by the Boston Foundation, the single most advantageous way to provide financial education for aging out children is through economic opportunities during their high school years. Specifically, a high school job provides the children with a taste of independence and a self-motivating means of learning responsibility and wise economic planning. The primary discouraging economic factors for aging out youth and the primary reason that many do not transition to college, is their need for transportation and housing, both of which can be unattainable without responsible financial planning on the part of the foster care home during high school.
Life After Foster Care
This article by Finessa Ferrell discusses government attempts to improve the financial outcome and financial knowledge of foster care children. The John C. Chaffee Foster Care Independence Program seeks to empower state foster care systems by doubling funding for financial education. According to her research, more than two-thirds of high school seniors lack basic understanding of money management regardless of taking proper coursework in high school. According to Ferrell, the solution is to provide hands-on experience through an actual checking and savings account for the student while working a high school job.
After a review of the available literature, it is clear that the only way to give foster care children the financial literacy and financial preparedness necessary for life on their own is through getting their hands dirty and giving them direct life experience. A high school education and diploma or GED are important for securing a stable entry-level job and teaching the children about basic work ethic. Working a high school job and being held accountable for saving and spending their money responsibly ensures experience that will last throughout adulthood. Finally, programs that assisted foster care children in securing housing and transportation ensured a safe living environment and necessary stability for success.
Anderson, Gary (2003). Aging Out of the Foster Care System: Challenges and Opportunities for the State of Michigan. Michigan Applied Public Policy Research Program.
Atkinson, Melinda (2008). Aging Out of Foster Care: Towards a Universal Safety Net for Former Foster Care Youth. Harvard Civil Rights-Civil Liberties Law Review, 43, 183-212.
Collins M, Clay C, Ward R (2008). Preparing Our Kids for Education, Work and Life. The Boston Foundation.
Neild, Ruth & Balfanz, Robert (2006). Unfulfilled Promise: The Dimensions and Characteristics of Philadelphia’s Dropout Crisis, 2000-2005. Philadelphia Youth Transitions Collaborative.
Ferrell, Finessa (2004). Life After Foster Care. State Legislatures, October/November, 28-30.
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