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Article of Interest - Foster Care

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Bridges4Kids LogoLOCAL COMMENT: Let's All Help the Youth 'Aging Out' of Foster Care
by Maura D. Corrigan, Detroit Free Press, November 15, 2004
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Imagine this: It is your 19th birthday. Your few belongings are packed. The adults you have been living with bid you goodbye. The door shuts behind you; you are on your own -- and very much alone. You have no job, no family and no idea how to handle your new independence.

That scene is taking place all over Michigan for hundreds of young adults who must leave the foster care system and venture out on their own.

At any given time, Michigan has over 19,000 children and youth in foster care. The vast majority of these young people are victims of abuse and neglect. Some return to their biological parents or are placed with relatives; others are adopted. But the majority of foster children are not adopted or returned to their biological families.

Indeed, after age 11, a child's chances of being adopted are virtually nil. As a result, many foster children simply remain in care until they literally "age out" of foster care, usually by age 19. These young people enter adult life without an adult support structure and without important life skills.

Those of us who have raised children to young adulthood know that turning 18 or 19 does not magically transform teenagers into totally self-sufficient adults who can find and keep a job, locate housing, budget and save money, and raise children of their own. In fact, most college graduates find that independent living is a new and challenging experience. Think of all the times your adult daughter or son has called you for advice on subjects ranging from career choice to how to cook a turkey.

Foster youth who age out of the system have even greater needs for adult guidance. Studies of aging-out foster youth present a consistent picture: higher rates of homelessness, unemployment, and involvement with the criminal justice system when compared with others in the same age group.

In a recent report entitled "Troubled Water: Foster Care Youth and College," Dr. Gary Anderson and Dr. Rosalind Folman of the Michigan State University School of Social Work find that young adults out of foster care are 51 percent more likely to be unemployed, 27 percent more likely to be incarcerated, 42 percent more likely to be teenage parents, and 25 percent more likely to be homeless. Within four years, 60 percent of them will have had a child.

Statistics also indicate that over half of these former foster youth will find themselves back in the legal system within two years of "aging out." Other information indicates that these youth are at high risk for substance abuse, domestic violence and poverty, precisely because they lack the instruction and support that other young adults receive from parents and other adults.

As a mentor for a former foster youth, I have come to appreciate how much foster youth need adult guidance -- and I have come to realize that adoption cannot be the only solution for them. When, in 2003, Michigan held its first-ever Adoption Day -- which the Michigan Supreme Court co-sponsored with the Family Independence Agency -- the focus was on the thousands of
children available for adoption in our state and their need for permanent, loving homes.

Those of us in the justice system understandably and properly concentrate on getting children into permanent placements. But we must also realize that many children and youth are just never going to be adopted. We cannot simply throw up our hands in response; we must ask ourselves what we can do for these foster children.

I am convinced, from my visits with various community groups around the state, that there are many people of good will who -- although they are not prepared to adopt -- want to help foster children and youth, but don't know how or where to go to volunteer. The needs of foster youth are profound and varied -- but how to connect them and this great wellspring of private good will?

On Nov. 23, Michigan Adoption Day 2004, Michigan citizens will be offered a way to help these very vulnerable young people (details of this new program will be released that day). As counties around Michigan celebrate the finalization of over 300 adoptions, all of us will celebrate with them and the adopting families. But we will not lose sight of those who will not be
adopted. My hope is that Adoption Day 2004 will herald the beginning of greater hope, and a better life, for those who age out of foster care.

MAURA D. CORRIGAN is chief justice of the Michigan Supreme Court. Write to her in care of the Free Press Editorial Page, 600 W. Fort St., Detroit, MI 48226.


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