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What does it mean to be in Foster Care?

Children are placed into foster families because their birth families are unable to care for them. This may be due to a variety of reasons, but through no fault of their own, it usually means the child has experienced some type of trauma, such as neglect or physical or emotional abuse by family member(s). Children may be placed into foster care for a short time or an extended period, but especially for older teens, the chances of reunification or adoption are much smaller than for younger children. These foster youths, for various reasons, are often moved from home to home, with an average of 7+ different foster family placements and multiple schools through their teen years. Many of them unfortunately face further neglect or abuse during their time in foster care. These factors, plus the uncertainty caused by the separation from their biological families, all contribute to a lack of stability and consistent support, a lack of strong, trusting adult relationships and a lack of confidence, life skills and self- esteem they need to lead successful independent adult lives.

What does it mean to "age out" of the foster care system?

If a child isn’t reunified with their family or adopted into a new family by their 18th birthday, then they “age out” of the system, which means their foster family no longer receives county/ state benefits to care for them. Some families can continue to provide for their foster child on their own and invite them to stay on longer. Children in Pennsylvania can elect to stay “in the system” until they are 21, but due to past trauma, insecurity, a lack of strong relationships, and the feeling that the system has let them down, most young adults choose to exit the system and try to live on their own. Approximately 20- 25% of them become instantly homeless on their 18th birthdays.

What challenges do young women face after they age out?


Because most students finish high school sometime after they turn 18, only about 30% of former foster youth graduate from high school. Only about 10% of them attend any college and only about 3% graduate with a 4- year college degree. About 70% of young women are pregnant before their 21st birthdays. Former foster youth are also much more likely to experience physical and mental health problems. Studies have found that former foster children are nearly twice as likely to experience PTSD as US war veterans.

Aging out of the foster care system leaves youths, especially young women, extremely vulnerable to homelessness, food insecurity, violence, sexual exploitation and trafficking, early pregnancy and government dependency. Without parental or familial guidance and support, many of these young women end up stuck in a cycle they can’t get out of.

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