Foster care teens need your help to establish happy, productive lives.
After leaving home for the first time, most young adults still rely on their parents for good advice, living skills, and financial help. But, "aged-out" foster care teens have no one to turn to. They have no one to call when they mess up a recipe or get a flat tire. They have no one to listen when they endure a bad breakup or fail an exam. They have no one to support them through their first real job, their first adult relationship, and their first time living on their own.
Nearly 20,000 foster care teens "age-out" of the foster care system each year. Once they reach 18, their state and foster families are no longer required to give them assistance. They are left to fend for themselves.
Unfortunately, many foster care teens don't have the support and life skills necessary to live on their own. Foster care studies have shown that in just four years after leaving foster care, 25 percent of "aged-out" youth have been homeless, 42 percent have become parents themselves, fewer than 20 percent are able to support themselves, and only 46 percent have graduated from high school. Because they lack the support systems most young adults take for granted, aged-out foster care teens are at high risk for substance abuse, domestic violence and poverty.
With just a few hours of your time, you can help foster care teens successfully enter the adult world.
Each of these suggestions can have a big impact on the life of an "aged-out" foster teen. Decide which opportunity to make a difference works best for you.
Be a Mentor
Mentoring gives foster care teens a listening ear and a friend to guide them through their struggles. Mentoring relationships begun while foster care kids are in their mid-teens can be beneficial as the kids become more independent. Consider these mentoring possibilities:
- Mentor through the internet. VMentor.com allows mentors to form relationships with a foster care teens aged 16-23. This virtual mentoring system matches teens and mentors according to their interests and career aspirations. Each week, mentors communicate with their teens completely through email.
- Mentor through a local organization. Many local foster agencies provide mentorship programs for kids in foster care. These programs are often flexible, and allow mentors to set their own appointments according to their schedule. Simply call your nearest foster care agency to find out what opportunities are available.
- Mentor through a college program. College can be a challenge for foster care teens that don't have home support. Ask the guidance office of your local college if the school provides a mentoring program for incoming foster care freshmen.
Many foster care teens desire to go to college. But, few have the resources to succeed. Try one of these easy ways to help foster teens succeed in higher education:
- Encourage your community to start a foster scholarship fund. Write or call your community leaders and encourage them to set up a college fund for local foster care teens. If your state already has a tuition waiver program in place, scholarship money can be used to pay the living expenses of studying foster teens.
- Donate school supplies. Foster teens need pens, paper, calculators, backpacks, and other supplies. Contact your local foster care agency to see what items are most needed.
- Give bookstore gift certificates. College textbooks can cost hundreds of dollars each semester and are not always covered by financial aid. Giving foster students college bookstore gift certificates can be an easy way to help students succeed in college.
- Provide tutoring. Students "aged-out" of the foster system need help developing learning skills and study habits. Volunteer to help tutor foster care students in any subject you're comfortable with.
Few "aged-out" foster care kids have a car of their own. Rides to medical appointments, job interviews, school functions, and places public transportation doesn't service can be a huge help to these teens. Call your local foster care agency to find out which foster care kids are in need of a ride.
Foster care teens may have lived for years with only a couple suitcases worth of personal belongings. When they begin living on their own, they'll need supplies to set up house. If you want to donate, try one of these options:
- Donate household goods directly to the foster care agency. Contact the foster agency before you begin collecting to see what the teens need. Consider donating household items that you want to replace, but that are still in good shape. Cookware, beds, and furniture may all be useful. Try exploring yearly retail dorm-room sales (usually in late August) to find deals on household furnishings.
- Send care packages to "aged-out" teens. Work with a friend to put together boxes, or donate through a formal organization. The Orphan Foundation of America accepts large donations of goods, as well as individual donations of gift cards to national chain stores. They also enable donors to include an encouraging note with the gift cards they send.
Whatever your profession, consider donating your time and talents to help foster care teens. If you're a dentist, provide free or discounted dental care. If you're a copywriter, offer to make brochures asking the community to support foster care scholarship funds. If you're a restaurant owner, distribute gift cards. If you're a banker, help foster teens set up a savings account. If you're a manager, consider hiring foster care teens that may have a hard time finding work. Whatever your talents, please use them to make a difference.