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Report: Older IL Foster Kids Need More Stability

Nearly half of Illinois children in foster care age out of the system without finding a permanent family. (nastya_gepp/Pixabay)
Nearly half of Illinois children in foster care age out of the system without finding a permanent family. (nastya_gepp/Pixabay)
November 14, 2018

SPRINGFIELD, Ill. - Experts say the instability of foster care often adds trauma to the lives of children in the system, with special challenges for older kids.

According to the new report from the Annie E. Casey Foundation, the impact often leads to lower graduation rates, early parenting, homelessness and unemployment for youths age 14 and up. Nearly half of foster youths in Illinois age out of care, and for the others, it takes about 33 months to find a permanent home. Nora Collins-Mandeville, director of systems reform policy for the ACLU of Illinois, said that's more than a year longer than in other states.

"You're still talking about a difference of over a year," she said. "A year's a long time in a child's life. It's not OK. It means that kids are not connected and have a home that's safe and loving, and they need that stability."

In Illinois, 27 percent of the foster-care population is age 14 or older. Collins-Mandeville said the report should give policymakers a better understanding of the challenges of teens living in foster care, and what it takes to prepare them for life as they 'age out' of the system. That includes helping them graduate, and get stable housing and vocational training.

Seventy-nine percent of young people in foster care in Illinois earn a high school diploma, compared with 92 percent of the general teen population. Experts pointed to the trauma of abuse or neglect, as well as frequent moves, as barriers to their success.

Leslie Gross, director of the Casey Foundation's Jim Casey Youth Opportunities Initiative, said these outcomes have effects that last into adulthood.

"Young people who don't graduate from high school, that impacts their long-term earnings," she said. "Young people who experience homelessness - that impacts society, in terms of the costs of having to maintain shelter beds and other things like that."

Collins-Mandeville said the data comes at a pivotal moment, since Illinois soon will have a new governor, and added that she hopes policies and practices that promote stability for children in foster care are prioritized.

"We would love to see this governor say, 'This is an opportunity to prioritize these young people and I'm going to commit to that'," she said. "So, I think it's an exciting time for policymakers as we are looking and planning around the budget, making sure that we're looking at the needs of this youth population."

The report said solutions will require a greater investment in programs with proven records of equipping young people for future success. It's online at aecf.org.

Mary Kuhlman, Public News Service - IL