By Zengzheng Wang
Every year, about 30,000 young adults “age out” of the foster care system nationwide, about 800 in Massachusetts.
Erica Nazzaro, director of Home for Little Wanderers’ YARN program, a program that helps youth ages 18-22 with independent living, access community resources and support for vocational training and higher education, said many of these young adults had been in the care of the Department of Children and Families (DCF) most of their lives. In Massachusetts they age out between the ages 18-22, depending on whether they elect to remain in DCF care into their early 20s.
Maria Mossaides, the Executive Director of Cambridge Family and Children’s Service, said the bad outcomes of youth aging out of DCF care is well documented according to various national studies and studies in Massachusetts. A large percentage of youth who age out of DCF care experience homelessness, and as a result end up in the criminal justice system. Many don’t have a high school diploma because they’ve moved a lot and they experienced disruptions in their education. For many young women who have aged out of DCF care, prostitution becomes an inevitable outcome. A large number of these youth wind up either pregnant or impregnating someone else. Many also wind up in the criminal justice system, suffering from depression and even suicidal thoughts, which can lead to suicide, Mossaides said.
Because these children are failing, the Massachusetts Task Force on Youth Aging Out was founded in 2008. It is co-chaired by the Home for Little Wanderers and Cambridge Family and Children’s Service, and is comprised of more than 40 state agencies to help the aging out population through advocacy, research, and public education.
The state of Massachusetts, as listed on the mass.gov website, allows youth in state care to stay until they turn 22. If the youth reaches the age of 18 but would like to remain in care, they can enter into a voluntary agreement with DCF to remain in state care until their 22nd birthday.
“Massachusetts certainly was in the forefront of allowing children to get services beyond the age of 18 and there was recent federal law that basically allows states to get reimbursed, some additional funding from 18-22,” Mossaides said. “but they still need help with a whole bunch of things and they certainly need help with housing.”
Mossaides said the Task Force works primarily on housing issues because the high cost of rent in Massachusetts makes independent living difficult.
“We have attempted to work with the Department of Housing and Urban Development around their homeless initiatives [to try] to get these young people a priority on the list of those who are homeless, ” Mossaides said.
Source: 2008 Task Force on Youth Aging Out Report, the outcomes of youth aging out of foster care