Why Do Foster Children End Up Homeless After Turning 18?

Why Do Foster Children End Up Homeless After Turning 18?

Homelessness is partly due to a failure of state systems to ease the transition to adulthood. In the first four years after aging out of foster care, approximately 20% of former foster youth will experience homelessness. Certain factors can heighten the likelihood of becoming homeless after time in the foster care system. 

At FosterVA, we work to put every child into a safe and loving home within our foster care program. However, the statistics show that the products of the foster system are more likely to struggle in life.

School Placements 

The education system is commonly accredited with only transmitting curriculum to students; however, it does more. Attending school helps young people develop their people skills, emotional bandwidth, and identity.

Building trust with a teacher and nurturing positive relationships helps children develop their emotional intelligence and overcome feelings of self-doubt.

Brain development is shaped by consistent and supportive relationships in someone's life. If students are moved from school to school too often, they are unlikely to create these foundational relationships. 

Additionally, if a foster child moves too much from school to school, they may not achieve their educational benchmarks. Failure to achieve their academic benchmarks, including completing their primary education and graduating with a diploma or GED, will raise the risk of unaccompanied youth becoming homeless in Virginia. 

Student mobility studies show that frequently changing schools can negatively impact student engagement, self-perception, and grades. Suppose children are not allowed to integrate into a school fully. In that case, they will likely suffer in their personal development and academic success.

Experiences With Juvie 

Children in the foster care system who cannot reunite with their birth parents and experience multiple movements are more likely to act out and engage in delinquency. Foster care's uncertainty and temporary nature often frustrate youths and motivate them to act out. 

When a child is engaged in criminal behavior of a certain caliber, the court system gets involved, and the foster child may end up serving time in a juvenile detention facility. Juvenile detention is short-term confinement after a youth has been arrested but before the court has determined their guilt.

The average stay in juvenile detention centers is 27 days; however, short stays also disrupt a child's mental state and emotional development. 

When foster parents have a child in juvenile detention, they often reassess the placement. They may ask for the child to be removed from their care, where a child may be placed in an emergency shelter.

New stable housing could also be found for them if there is a new foster family. They can also be placed in a program on the continuum of care, like a group home or locked mental health facility. A higher level of care can cause additional disruption in the youth's development and sense of stability. 

Youth in the foster system who have gotten into legal trouble are more likely to be underprepared for independent living. This makes them more likely to end up on the streets once they leave the system. These crimes are typically committed out of frustration against the system and are associated with the feeling that they were dealt an unfair hand in life.

Number of Placements 

Having more than one foster care placement increases the probability of becoming homeless. Foster care is designed to be a temporary solution for children who have been removed from their biological parents' homes.

Children with multiple placements are more likely to have behavioral issues and struggle due to an overall lack of stability. Unlike adoptive parents or legal guardians, foster parents are not absorbing full legal responsibility for the child. This makes it likely that a kid in the foster system is shuffled between homes when a family cannot meet the needs of a child in their home.

Poor Mental Health Resources

Many children are put into the foster system after being removed from an unsafe home. This can mean that children entering the foster care system may have had parents who were drug addicts, abusers, or criminals. Although removal from the biological parent's care is of the utmost importance, it can cause severe trauma in children. 

When children come from unstable families, their trust and mental health are already warped by their previous circumstances. With over 400,000 children in the foster care system in the United States, the state lacks the necessary amount of resources to fund vital mental health resources for the foster program. The state also lacks enough social workers to provide thorough and adequate mental health services to every child.

As potential foster parents, you can work on getting trauma certified to help ease your children's transition and better support them. 


There is a disproportionate number of black children in the foster care system. There is a blatant inequity in experiencing foster care and homelessness between black and white youth. Black youths are less likely to receive shelter-based services than their white counterparts. 

Lack of Transitionary Programs 

Children in the foster system are wards of the state until they turn 18. Under Fostering Futures in Virginia, a youth may stay in foster care if they continue to meet specific criteria set out by the program. At that point, foster checks stop to foster parents, and the child is legally "on their own." Foster children do not typically get support when transitioning into adulthood.

Foster children and homeless youth do not have opportunities to follow traditional milestones in their adolescent lives. Once the child effectively ages out of the system, there is minimal state support to help them join a trade school, pursue a four-year degree, or acquire full-time employment. 

Understand Foster Care and Homelessness

When we better understand what indicators put a child at a higher risk for homelessness, we can begin to target high-risk foster children and provide them with the support they need before they age out of foster care.

A Foster parent is a perfect partner to help a child with this stage in their life and prepare them to be successful. With a good education from Social Services and your foster care agency, we hope you will be equipped with the necessary tools to support your children. 

Sadly, the foster care system and the youth homelessness epidemic are tethered. However, with the growth of the quality foster program and the onboarding of more loving foster parents, the state can provide better care to these struggling youths as they transition to adulthood. With hard work, they will not join the homeless people in our community. 

Contact us at FosterVA to help foster children find a safe home. 

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