After reaching their 18th birthday, 20 per cent of teenagers who are in the US foster care system will instantly become homeless.
A devastating 60 per cent of young men who have aged out of foster care and are legally emancipated will have been convicted of a crime.
Furthermore, just one out of every two foster children who age out of the system will be gainfully employed by the age of 24, with one in four failing to pass high school or gain a GED.
Guy Bryant, a 61-year-old foster parent, has helped raise over 50 young men in Flatbush, New York, over the past 12 years. pic.twitter.com/Q3UFCSINe9
— HuffPost (@HuffPost) August 6, 2019
The years between 18 and 21 are truly formative, taking a person through the first tentative steps of adulthood. For the majority of young people, these years will encompass a number of scary firsts; first jobs, first rent due and first ideas about the sort of life they want to lead and the person they want to become.
Many people within this age bracket will want to pursue higher education or intensive vocational training, and will need the space and support to develop themselves both personally and professionally.
Having ‘aged out’ of the system at 18, many of those who grew up in foster care will enter the adult world without the safety net of a stable family home, or the supportive parental figures many of us take for granted.
According to 2017 figure from the National Foster Youth Institute (NFYI), over 23,000 kids will age out of the US foster care system each year. And the statistics make for disheartening reading.
0. Hi Mr Guy Bryant. Thank you. 1. Tteam, get around Mr Bryant and all those he raised Forever. Thanks. pic.twitter.com/Tk3uPEbzLV
— Starte Christ (@Christalso) August 7, 2019
Fortunately, there are some genuinely wonderful people on this planet who are committed to ensuring such young, vulnerable individuals are given the stability they need to feel safe, secure and capable of fulfilling their potential.
61-year-old Guy Bryant, from New York, is one such individual. Having worked as a community coordinator at New York City’s Administration for Children’s Services for 32 years, Bryant knows all too well the difference a good home can make.
For Bryant, the welfare of young people is far more than just a job. In the last 12 years, Bryant has fostered over 50 young men, with his own community orientated upbringing having inspired his caring outlook.
Bryant told The Huffington Post about the love he has for his many foster children:
The Mr. Bryant approach is I love you regardless. You could become a brain surgeon or you could be a bathroom cleaner — it doesn’t matter.
Once you come into my home and you’ve been with me and you’ve been here, you’re my kid for life. That’s my approach. You’ll always have a bed to come to, a shower to take — you’ll always be able to come home. This is home.
Bryant – who has no plans to retire anytime soon – fosters youths from New York agency Rising Ground, an organisation which has supported vulnerable young people since 1831.
The kindly father makes sure to spend quality time with his foster children, taking them on fishing trips and cooking meals with them.
Bryant spoke with The Huffington Post about the importance of establishing bonds with his foster children, whose past experiences may have made them distrustful as adults:
The difficult thing about building trust is their past interactions with adults. If I can get you to engage in conversation with me about how you’re feeling and what’s going on, then that right there, my job is done.
They constantly need to be reinforced that ‘I am here. I am going to do what I say.’ My kids will tell you whatever I say, I’m going to do for you. I always do it because I don’t want you to look at me like one of those adults who let you down.
Bryant’s work with the Administration for Children’s Services focuses on young adults between 18 and 21 years old through a programme called Supervision to 21. This programme locates young people and provides them with vital services including housing, employment and access to health care.
Bryant was first inspired to foster in 2007 when one of the young men he was working with asked if he would be his father. Not only did Bryant foster the youth, he also decided to open up his home to his friend and his friend’s brother.
Despite initial worries about how his fostering would be perceived, Bryant hasn’t looked back; knowing full well how his generosity has helped give dozens of youths a much needed sense of identity and permanence.
.@ACSNYC ConnectMe is NYC's newest one-stop-shop for youth in #fostercare, foster parents, and families that provides quick access to info about educational services, parenting support, public assistance & other resources. Check it out here: https://t.co/WYzGbSFdGe pic.twitter.com/S32kpvfanH
— NYC ACS (@ACSNYC) August 1, 2019
It isn’t just in the US where ageing out of the foster care system significantly disrupts a person’s life. Until the beginning of this decade, most fostered young people had no choice but to leave their foster home upon turning 18.
This is a painfully early age when you consider young people outside the care system leave home, on average, at the age of 24. Furthermore, many fostered youths often need extra support and time while they adjust to adult life, having already grappled with a range of complex issues.
Some positive changes have been noted over the past decade. Championed by The Fostering Network, the Don’t Move Me campaign now allows those exiting foster care the choice to stay with their former foster carer, or another foster carer, until they turn 21.
This provision was legally implemented in England in 2014, where it is known as Staying Put. It was also introduced in Wales in 2016, under the name When I Am Ready.
"Youth aging out of foster care—especially LGBTQ youth—are at high risk of experiencing homelessness. More than 40% of youth aging out of the child welfare system experience housing instability within 2 years of leaving foster care." https://t.co/nAyeLjqWYs#EndHomelessnessDC pic.twitter.com/3MH1myv1ja
— Greater Washington Community Foundation (@communityfndn) August 6, 2019
Young people over the age of 16 leaving care in Scotland have been eligible for Continuing Care since 2015, meaning they can request to remain with their former foster carer as opposed to being moved on to another carer.
However, post-18 provision in Northern Ireland differs notably from the rest of the UK. Launched in 2010, The Going the Extra Mile (GEM) scheme is non-statutory and is only accessible to 18 to 21-year-olds in education, employment or training.
Jackie Sanders, director of external relations at The Fostering Network, spoke with UNILAD about progress made in post-18 provision in the UK, and commented on what improvements still need to be made:
While we were delighted with the introduction of post-18 legislation in England and Wales, post-16 legislation in Scotland and the non-statutory arrangement in Northern Ireland, allowing care-experienced young people in the UK to remain living with their foster families until the age of 21, too few young people are currently benefiting from these schemes.
The proper implementation and funding of these arrangements needs to be prioritised. It should be guaranteed that such arrangements will not be financially detrimental to foster carers.
A minimum allowance, sufficient to cover the cost of looking after a young person, should be introduced to enable more young people to stay living with their former foster carers, and all carers supporting these arrangements should be paid a fee for their time, skills and expertise.
There also needs to be a culture shift within fostering services towards an expectation that young people will remain living with their foster families until the age of 21. Fostering services need to do more to make foster carers and young people aware of their post-care policy and to introduce it early in the planning process.
Right now in Australia, almost 50,000 children are living in out-of-home care, but the moment they turn 18, those kids will have to fend for themselves. Now, this emotional new campaign is asking the government to extend foster care to 21 years of age. #9Today pic.twitter.com/rfpENF1N3l
— The Today Show (@TheTodayShow) August 6, 2019
Many of those who have spent time in the care system will have experienced disruption and uncertainty on a substantial scale.
A patient, thoughtful caregiver such as Guy Bryant can make all the difference, offering the care and acceptance required for a young person to regain or maintain trust in others.
You can find more information about fostering via The Fostering Network website
If you have a story you want to tell send it to UNILAD via [email protected]
Jules studied English Literature with Creative Writing at Lancaster University before earning her masters in International Relations at Leiden University in The Netherlands (Hoi!). She then trained as a journalist through News Associates in Manchester. Jules has previously worked as a mental health blogger, copywriter and freelancer for various publications.