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Young Adults Face Struggles Leaving Foster Care

About 94 percent of young people in foster care in Maine earn a high school diploma or GED by age 21. (pxhere)
About 94 percent of young people in foster care in Maine earn a high school diploma or GED by age 21. (pxhere)
November 14, 2018

AUGUSTA, Maine — Maine is doing relatively well in helping young people in foster care transition to adult life, but there's room for improvement.

A new 50-state report from the Annie E. Casey Foundation said young people transitioning out of foster care lag behind their peers in educational attainment, employment and secure housing. But in Maine, 94 percent earn a high school diploma or GED by age 21, better than the national average.

Ahmen Cabral, policy associate at the Maine Youth Transition Collaborative, said one reason is that youth in Maine can opt to stay in foster care to age 21, rather than "aging out" at 18.

"That's something that we need to keep in mind, is making sure that we're providing opportunities for our young people to get connected to lifelong, permanent connections that can support them through those transitions to young adulthood,” Cabral said.

While a smaller percentage of youth in Maine are in group foster homes than the national average, a higher-than-average percentage experience multiple placements.

Leslie Gross, director of the Jim Casey Youth Opportunities Initiative, pointed out that establishing and maintaining lifetime connections with adults is a key factor in helping young people make the transition from foster care to independence.

"This really means supporting biological families so that young people can stay at home,” Gross said; “and if they have to be in care, policies that support young people as well as foster families who are willing to care for older youth."

She added the data show that young people of color are far more likely to be in foster care, to have multiple placements, and to leave care without a permanent family.

Cabral noted that to make foster care work better for teens, providers and policymakers need to ask those most affected by the policies.

"We can continue to listen to the ideas and the voices of our young people, continue to partner with those who have been through the foster care system, and identify the pieces that really helped them to achieve their goals,” she said.

The report emphasized the need for state laws and policies that make finding permanent placements and family for teens in foster care an urgent priority.

Andrea Sears, Public News Service - ME