There are approximately 20,000 young people in New York State living in foster care. About 62 percent of them live in New York City. By age 21, they will be on their own. Many youth who “age out” of the foster care system are unable to successfully transition to independent adulthood. They lack the education, skills, experience, and parental support necessary to find gainful employment.
As with the nation’s justice system, the foster care system is disproportionately black and Latino. In New York City, children of color account for 69 percent of foster care youth.
Studies conducted in various parts of the country reveal abysmal outcomes for foster youth who age out of the system. When compared to young people in the general population, those who have been in foster care have lower levels of employment and earnings, are more likely to rely on public assistance, be incarcerated, and suffer from mental health problems.
By age 26, many young people who have aged out of foster care face the sort of harsh times that most of us can only imagine. Nationally, nearly one in five lacks a high school diploma and less than 5 percent have a college degree. Given these statistics, it is not surprising that less than half are currently employed. And most who work are employed in low-wage jobs with average annual earnings of less than $14,000.
The poor outcomes of many foster care youth are why the Community Service Society has joined with the Children’s Aid Society and organizations across the state to advocate on behalf of children in the foster care system. We want to ensure that when these young people age out, they will do so with the necessary skills to live promising, independent lives.
The best way to ensure a successful, independent adulthood is a college education. New Yorkers with a bachelor’s degree are half as likely to be unemployed and earn more than twice as much as those with just a high school diploma. Yet fewer than one in four college-age foster and former foster youth in New York attend college.
While we are aware of the challenges foster youth face, we cannot speak with certainty about their outcomes. This is because there is a lack of tracking and reporting of meaningful data that would reveal outcomes for the city’s foster youth. For instance, there is no centralized data on high school graduation rates for those in the foster care system.
Without regularly reported data, it is impossible for the city to gauge the nature and scope of issues that foster youth face and prioritize policies and funding accordingly, or to gauge the effectiveness of programs designed to aid them. Just as important, without reliable data, the public cannot understand the magnitude of the issues facing foster youth.
There are several bills in the City Council that would mandate reporting data on youth aging out of foster care. These bills include one that would require the city to report high school graduation rates for youth in foster care. They should be supported by members of the Council and Mayor de Blasio.
There is more that we can do to help youth aging out of foster care. New York State does not provide funding for higher education for foster youth who want to go to college. Funding for postsecondary education or training can offer them much needed hope, motivation, and opportunities. It can help to ensure a successful future for one of society’s most vulnerable populations.