Bianca Christian isn’t your typical young person aging out of foster care. She scored 25 on the ACT and was headed to college. With the help of her Transitional Living Specialist, Christian chose the University of Tennessee, Knoxville. But then in her freshman year, she got pregnant, and didn’t know what to do. So she contacted her Transitional Living Specialist.
“She helped me a lot with deciding what I wanted to do as far as to move back to Memphis or stay in Knoxville,” says Christian, “because that was a big decision.”
Now Christian is 20 and studying to be a child psychologist at the University of Memphis. She also has a 10-month-old baby boy, and they just moved into their own apartment.
Mark Courtney is the lead researcher of the Midwest Evaluation of the Adult Functioning of Former Foster Youth, often referred to as the “Midwest Study.” Courtney followed approximately 700 young people starting at age 17 and checked in with them every two years through age 26.
Approximately 28,000 young people age out of foster care each year in the United States. And many of them are expected to transition into adulthood instantly – unlike their counterparts who are raised by their parents and often allowed to ease into adulthood. The obstacles the formerly fostered youth must jump are for some enormous – and without the guidance of parents. Many more formerly fostered youth find themselves homeless, incarcerated and saddled with children at an early age.
“A lot of the transitions we associate with adulthood in this society, so living on your own, finishing your schooling, being financially independent, starting a family,” Courtney explains, “They’re happening many years later than say 30 years ago.”
Courtney says the struggles that the youth in the Midwest Study face fall into four categories. Christian is typical when we look at the “Accelerated Adults.” Most are female, finished high school and almost half are raising children. And they’re most likely to graduate college. Another 20 percent are considered “Emerging Adults.” They’re living with friends and family, most finished high school and are most likely to have a job. Courtney says 17 percent are “Troubled and Troubling.” Most of the “troubled” are male, not working and have criminal records.
“About a quarter of our people, what we call ‘Struggling Parents’ in the sense that very few of them have a high school diploma, very few have work experience, about three quarters of them are relying on some kind of public assistance. So they’re parenting, but under very difficult circumstances,” explains Courtney. “And that’s becoming a defining characteristic of their young adulthood.”
Kiara Baskerville, 19, gave birth to DeKirion the summer before her senior year of high school. Baskerville found out about the Transitional Living Program during her senior year of high school. Lydia Dunlap is Baskerville’s Transitional Living Specialist. She says Baskerville’s struggles began after she graduated, “Because when you’re not in foster care, your benefits are cut off.”
Earlier in the day, Baskerville achieved a major milestone. She signed a lease for her first apartment!
Baskerville is shy. She’s on public assistance, raising a three-year old boy and has been living with various relatives since graduating high school. She says she’s been looking an apartment for about a year and this day is, “The best day so far.”
“Kiara and I usually work in the car because we usually have an errand to run, like today’s turning the lights on, getting the key to her apartment,” Dunlap explains. “Today, one of the things we’re going to address is budgeting skills, and kinda talking about the essentials are for as far as furniture, pots and pans, kitchenware and what she needs getting started in her first apartment.”
Now, two months later, Baskerville has secured daycare for DeKirion and she’s looking for work.
Since 1999, Youth Villages purports to have assisted 4,500 youth in the Southeast and Massachusetts through the Transitional Living Program, and their outcomes are much better than those in the Midwest study. Most end up living on their own, working or in school within a year or so.