“We’ve heard stories of kids who were dropped off at City Union Mission by their social worker because it’s the kid’s 21st birthday,” said Nathan Ross, youth programs supervisor at the nonprofit social service agency FosterAdopt Connect. “Here’s your bag, here’s your stuff. I can’t work with you anymore because you’re over age.”
Is it any surprise then that, according to federal data, upwards of one-third of the young adults aging out of the foster system each year in the Kansas City metropolitan area end up homeless by the age of 21?
A 2017 report from Child Trends surveyed independent living coordinators from across the country regarding aging-out youth and services states provide. Housing, they said, was the area most in need of improvement.
Only 9 percent of kids who had been in foster care had their own residence by age 26, whereas 30 percent of the general population did, according to the study. Forty-five percent of young adults from the system had experienced an economic hardship like not having enough money to pay rent, as opposed to 18 percent of their peers.
In the Kansas City area, nonprofit providers have formed a loose-knit safety net for youth who fall through the cracks of state-provided services.
Why the Need?
There are a lot of reasons why children aging out end up homeless.
For one, they have few, if any, social supports. When they lose a job or a lease, there is nowhere to turn for help. Before being removed, they were neglected in their homes, where there is often generational poverty, violence or addiction, making it difficult to break these cycles.
Then, they are put into a system that only adds trauma by moving them into new places where they know no one, said Angie Blumel, CEO of the Jackson County office of the National Court Appointed Special Advocate (CASA) Association. Kids who eventually age out can spend as many as three years shuffling between placements, which is longer than for children who get adopted.
“To say we are going to put them in the system and fix those long-term issues is incorrect,” Blumel said. “We are trying to add support and opportunities and connect them with services, but because of the trauma of abuse and neglect, plus the institutional trauma, there’s a lot working against these kids.”
And part of that is funding, said Brad Smith, executive director of the Drumm Farm Center for Children in Independence, Missouri.
“For a child in foster care, the state of Missouri supports them somewhere around $11 a day,” he said. “We are spending less on child welfare than at any time in the last 30 years. That we are having problems shouldn’t be shocking.”
Evie Craig, CEO of reStart Inc., a homeless services organization in Kansas City, described this group as suffering “developmental malnutrition” in a system that too often just warehouses its charges. A lot of young adults who age out have been living in congregate-care settings where they don’t do things like cook meals, do laundry or handle money.
And this has financial consequences for us all. The Annie E. Casey Foundation has estimated that kids aging out of foster care cost society $8 billion more each year than their counterparts in the general population.
Kansas and Missouri do provide some supports to these young adults.