It's Time to Improve the Odds for Young People in Foster Care

It's Time to Improve the Odds for Young People in Foster Care
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As a parent of a 17 and 20 year old, I understand the balancing act of parenting teens. We still operate under those protective instincts we had when our children were small, yet the job of parenting adolescents brings a whole new set of challenges. For example, we know it's good to give them the space they need to test out their decision-making skills, gain independence, and assume personal responsibility. All too often, these fundamental life skills are learned "the hard way," but they provide the building blocks that help our children become successful, productive adults.

Teenagers in foster care are no different. They need the same kind of parental support as their peers, yet too often the foster care system isn't adequate to provide them with that support and those important "growing up" experiences. Youth in foster care often lack the stability, the tough love, and the assurance that someone will be there for them, to help them learn when they make mistakes and bad choices (because they - like all teenagers - will make them).

Let me be clear: We must improve the way we support teenagers in foster care. We need to work harder to give them the same support and guidance parents provide their own teenagers. It's a critical ingredient to improving the odds for these young people and helping them build better adult lives.

In Delaware, I've made it a top priority to make sure our public agencies are doing all they can to support older youth in foster care, smooth their transition to adulthood, and ensure they are on a path to success. We've created opportunities to let these young people have a direct say in decision making related to their lives, invested in supportive services, and formed key public-private collaborations with community leaders to support these kids. I am proud of our progress.

Other states are also taking steps to support older youth in foster care, but more is needed. Unfortunately, across America, too many youth age out of the foster care, often at age 18, without a family or access to other basic needs such as housing or employment. As a result, they are more likely than their peers to drop out of school, become parents before they are ready, experience homelessness, or end up in jail - costly consequences that impact all of us. In fact, a newly published analysis by the Jim Casey Youth Opportunities Initiative estimates that, on average, for every young person who ages out of foster care in America, the costs incurred to taxpayers and communities equal $300,000 over that young person's lifetime - or $7.8 billion in total costs to the U.S. every year.

It doesn't have to be this way. We have an unprecedented opportunity to create a better path for young people transitioning from foster care to adulthood. The latest adolescent brain research shows that the teen years offer a second chance to help kids overcome adversity and begin to thrive. And like Delaware, a number of states are increasing their focus on better meeting the needs of young people in foster care, starting at age 14, and extending beyond age 18. But not all are - yet.

That is why I joined the Jim Casey Youth Opportunities Initiative in Washington, D.C. to launch a national campaign to create a better path for young people transitioning from foster care to adulthood. Through the Success Beyond 18 campaign, I'm calling on my fellow governors to take a fresh look at how their states are serving foster youth, making sure these young people have the opportunities they need to succeed along their path to adulthood.

Parents know the teen years are a time of great change and transition, in which young people are rapidly maturing and preparing to take their place in an exciting but challenging world. We also know that well beyond age 18 - or age 20, or 25, for that matter - our children benefit from our guidance and support. We must apply what all parents know toward better serving teens and young adults in foster care. It's the right thing to do.

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