Aged Out: How to Help Teenagers in Virginia Foster Care

Teenagers holding a sign with his foster to adopt parents of his adoption date

How to Help a Teenager in the Foster Care System

How can I help a teenager be successful in foster care?

For more than 20,000 young adults in this country who have been in the USA foster care system, turning 18 or 21 is not a celebratory event. Children in foster care after turning 18 have a very uncertain future. Turning 18 or 21 for your typical youth means newfound independence, but how much do foster youth of that age still rely on a safety net typically provided by family?

These youth usually do not have a stable family they can rely on for assistance. Depending on the state where they live, young adults in foster care "age out" of the foster care system at either 18 or 21. Aging out is the process that occurs when youth must leave the foster care system because they were never adopted and are too old to stay in care. In Virginia, a child may transition to "Fostering Futures" and receive modest financial assistance until they are 21. Only about 50% of foster youth will complete a high school diploma.

Helping a teenager in the foster care system


The Virginia foster care statistics are devastating. By age 26, only three to four percent of youth aged out of foster care earn a community college degree or bachelor's degree. Fewer graduates will choose to enter a graduate program or a doctoral degree.

One in five of these youth will become homeless after turning 18.

Over 70 percent of female foster youth will become pregnant by 21, and one in four former foster care youth will experience PTSD. Only half will obtain employment by 24. This is higher than an Army veteran's PTSD diagnosis.

Individuals and families can play a significant role in helping foster teens by considering foster parenting and adopting older youth in the child welfare system. In Virginia, there are 2000 teens in foster care. Could you imagine how we, as a community, could combat those poor outcomes by supporting them by opening your home to a teenager?

Several universities have started programs specifically for foster youth. For the few young adults that leave foster care and make it to college, significant challenges await them.

Often they have difficulty navigating the college system, cannot afford textbooks, and have no place to go over holiday breaks when school closes, to name a few. In Virginia, the Education and Training Voucher (ETV) Program assists current and former teens and young adults in foster care with post-secondary education and training expenses.

It was designed to help eligible teens and young adults transitioning into adulthood with the education, training, and services needed for employment. Current funding includes up to $5,000 per year or the total cost of attendance per year (whichever is less) per eligible student. ETV funds can be combined with other grants or scholarships to minimize or eliminate the need for student loans.

Virginia also has the Great Expectations program through the Virginia Community College System. The approach is simple: connect foster youth with an adult coach committed to their success when help is most needed. The services could also help current or former foster youth with admissions, financial aid, housing, orientation, advisement, counseling, life skills, employment, and career planning to ensure their success through graduation.

The only way to combat the seemingly insurmountable problems foster youth face as they leave the child welfare system is a combination of programs and social support offered by families, churches, nonprofits, and the government. Only with an integrated approach can foster children get the help they need to transition to adulthood successfully.


"Aged-Out: Finding Home" is a documentary presented by VPM (Virginia Public Media) and produced by 19RED and Pam Hervey. The documentary provides awareness of the difficulties youth who age out of Virginia's foster care system face. The film also follows the story of the advocacy teams and families trying to improve Virginia's statewide care system so that youth in the foster system can have better outcomes and find permanent homes instead of aging out of the system onto the streets.

Watch the trailer below: 

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