As detailed in a February 17, 2021 article by Jamie Landers in Teen Vogue, on average, 20,000 youth age out of the foster care system every year. But aging out of foster care during a pandemic is creating severe challenges for already vulnerable youth.
According to recent federal data, there are more than 400,000 children (equivalent to roughly half the population of Delaware) in the United States foster care system. Many children in the system—who range in age from infancy up to 21 years old in some states—come from abused or neglected households. If no relatives or close friends can care for the child, they are put in the foster care system.
Life in the foster care system is different for every child. However, there is one universal truth for all children in the system, according to Marcia Robinson Lowry of national advocacy organization A Better Childhood: “Children who have experienced multiple placements are often both cognitively and emotionally delayed when compared to their peers. Although they crave emotional connections, they also resent and reject them in order to protect themselves.”
Unfortunately, as Jamie Landers explains in Teen Vogue article, the struggles of young people who have been through the foster care system do not end once they age out. If anything, those troubles multiply. It is common for children leaving the system to want to attend college or get a new job. But these aims are difficult to achieve because many foster care systems do not provide opportunities to develop the skills necessary for success.
The pandemic has multiplied already existing challenges. A national poll by FosterClub of youth in or emerging from foster care found that they “incredibly vulnerable” due to the COVID-19 crisis. They face severe food insecurity and financial hardship. “Many do not have family to rely on for emergency housing, meals, money, or advice,” said Celeste Bodner, Executive Director at FosterClub. The same report also showed that nearly forty percent of youth in foster care were forced to move or feared being forced to move during the pandemic.
Each time a child is moved, they lose the relationships they formed with the family they were with. Children also lose any friends they made while living in that area. This can cause severe emotional trauma, contributing to trust issues and difficulty in forming fulfilling bonds. The pandemic has limited children’s ability to meet face to face with potential families and friends, further complicating their ability to form bonds.
Outside of some scattered corporate news coverage of local-level problems with foster care induced by the pandemic, such as a San Antonio Express-News report about the shortage of foster homes in Texas, independent media have provided the only consistent national coverage of this topic. In addition to Landers’ Teen Vogue article, the Nation recently carried an article on the impact of the pandemic on the foster system.
Jamie Landers, “Aging Out of Foster Care During COVID-19 Pandemic Brings Additional Challenges,” Teen Vogue, February 17, 2021, https://www.teenvogue.com/story/aging-out-of-foster-care-pandemic.
Michelle Chen, “How Covid-19 Supercharged a Foster System Crisis,” The Nation, March 15, 2021, https://www.thenation.com/article/society/foster-care-covid/.
Student Researcher: Claire Roth (North Central College)
Faculty Evaluator: Steve Macek (North Central College)