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Unformatted text preview: Aging Out of Foster Care: Towards a Universal Safety Net for Former Foster Care Youth Melinda Atkinson * I. I NTRODUCTION No one expects adulthood to occur overnight, but that is exactly what happens to youths exiting the foster care system. To a youth in foster care, reaching the age of majority, typically set by states at age eighteen, means losing everything. The youth no longer has housing, healthcare, financial assistance, or a social worker to call in emergencies. Overnight, the youth is abandoned, on his or her own without a safety net and with little preparation for adulthood. For former foster care youths, exiting the foster care system is often a distressing time when they find themselves unprepared for the hard realities of adulthood. Youths who “age out” 1 are more likely than their peers to suffer from homelessness, be involved in criminal activity, be uneducated, be unemployed, experience poverty, and lack proper healthcare. Youths re- ceive little to no formal preparation from the state. Most troubling is the irreversibility of aging out. Unlike other young adults who have the option of returning home during difficult times, foster care youths in most states do not have the option of reentering the foster care system once they age out. All states have cut-offs, established between the ages of eighteen and twenty-one, after which a foster care youth is no longer eligible for any services or support. By definition, foster care youths have experienced trauma; 2 they were removed from the homes of their biological parents due to abuse or neglect * J.D. Candidate, Harvard Law School, Class of 2008; B.A.S.W., California State Univer- sity, Long Beach, 2004. I would like to thank Professor Jeanne Charn, Professor Elizabeth Bartholet, Professor Emily Buss, Miriam Krinsky, and Travis Green for contributing greatly to this essay through their support, guidance and thoughtful feedback. I am grateful to the edito- rial board of the Harvard Civil Rights-Civil Liberties Law Review for making the publication of this essay possible, especially Lauren Michaels and Fred Medick. Lastly, I wish to dedicate this essay to all the social workers who continue to inspire me, especially my mom, Cheri Atkinson. 1 The term “age out” refers to the termination of court jurisdiction over foster care youths. 2 See Mark E. Courtney & Darcy Hughes Heuring, The Transition to Adulthood for Youth “Aging Out” of the Foster Care System , in O N YOUR OWN WITHOUT A NET: THE TRANSITION TO ADULTHOOD FOR VULNERABLE POPULATIONS 27, 44 (D. Wayne Osgood et al. eds., 2005). In California a youth may be adjudged within the jurisdiction of the juvenile court when: (a) The child has suffered, or there is a substantial risk that the child will suffer, serious physical harm inflicted nonaccidently upon the child by the child’s parent or guardian. . . . ; (b) The child has suffered, or there is a substantial risk that the child 184 Harvard Civil Rights-Civil Liberties Law Review...
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- Spring '10
- Foster care, Foster Care Youth, foster care youths