Magazine article Policy & Practice

On Their Own: What Happens to Kids When They Age out of the Foster Care System

Magazine article Policy & Practice

On Their Own: What Happens to Kids When They Age out of the Foster Care System

Article excerpt

On Their Own: What Happens to Kids When They Age Out of the Foster Care System

By Martha Shirk and Gary Stangler. Hardcover/305 Pages/Westview Press/2004/0813341809

List Price $24.95

What does it mean to be 18 and on your own, without the family support and personal connections that most young people rely on?

Each year, as many as 25,000 teenagers "age out" of foster care, usually when they turn 18. For most of their lives, a government agency had made every important decision for them. And for most of their lives, they were removed from their biological parents by a state agency, end up being moved again and again until they reach the age of 18, when suddenly they are left to fend for themselves, with little guidance and support or supervision. As a result, foster children tend to be ill-prepared to live independently. They lack a loving support network. They are usually without money, and many suffer from learning disabilities, mental illness, or disorders leading to violent behavior.

While most members of conventional society know little about what life is like for foster children, journalist Martha Shirk and longtime children's advocate Gary Stangler are trying to make sure that that the world knows the economic and social barriers young people face stemming from the disruption of foster care. They have written a searing book about the plight of older teenagers who age out of the system that is meant to protect their welfare.

The bulk of the book is devoted to several case studies, including the drowning death of one-time foster child Reggie Kelsey at age 18 three years ago in Des Moines. The Iowa child welfare system had served him more or less well, given his learning disabilities and mental illness, but the discontinuance of effective service when Kelsey turned 18 cast a shadow on his life.

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Usually, foster children end up in all kinds of situations after they age out, even if they are from the same family. Shirk and Stangler chronicle the story of Jermaine, Jeffrey, and Lamar Williams, close-knit brothers from Brooklyn. After a judge sent them to a home for abused and neglected children, Lamar, the youngest, adjusted well. …

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