Who was your role model as you became an adult?

Erica Quintana and David Schlinkert
January 17, 2019

Kids at risk

Photo by
James Baldwin
on Unsplash

The future of the average kid aging out of foster care in Arizona is bleak. Data show that foster care kids are more likely to be without a high school education when they become adults. Their rates of arrest, homelessness, poor health, and welfare dependency are higher than in the general population.(1)

Reforming the large-scale systemic issues that affect foster care youth is expensive, time consuming, and requires political will. Yet mentoring, fostering older kids, and providing life skills and coaching programs are faster, community-based remedies.

January is National Mentor Month, and adult volunteers are being encouraged to help a child who may be at risk.

Research shows that a connection to a reliable, supportive adult can help lower depression, improve self-confidence and make a young person more likely to pursue higher education, lowering the risk of homelessness.(2) Also, mentoring an adolescent who is timing out of the home foster care system(3) might not only curb crime, especially among males,(4) but enable volunteers to become the one caring adult that helps turn an at-risk kid into a success story.

There are 14,491 children presently in out-of-home foster care, according to an Arizona Department of Child Safety (DCS) report. On average, each foster care child in Arizona is placed 2.5 times.(5)

This instability can make an already-challenging life even more complicated for these young adults when they have to start making decisions for themselves. On average, about 930 kids "age out" of foster care every year.(6,7) Many of these young adults lack a social support system and a caring adult that can provide them with a home, a positive role model, or a direction in life.  What's more, 20 percent of foster care kids go homeless within their first 18 months of aging out of the out-of-home foster care system.(8) Youth who age out of the foster care system at age 18 have two options:  

 • Becoming completely independent, leaving them with minimal supports, or
 • Stay in the DCS system, allowing the opportunity to continue their education and/or save some money before they ultimately age out when they turn 21.

This is a monumental decision for a teenager.  Whom do they turn to for advice as they begin to think about their next steps?  This is where volunteer adult mentors come in, providing a stable connection to a reliable adult, and helping to answers questions such as these.

1 Covenant House. (2017). Homelessness in America. Retrieved from: https://www.covenanthouse.org/homeless-teen-issues/foster-care
2 Massinga, R., & Pecora, P. J. (2004). Providing Better Opportunities for Older Children in the Child Welfare System. The Future of Children, 14(1), 150. doi:10.2307/1602759
3 Out-of-home foster care includes: placement with kin, in a non-relative foster home and congregate shelters.
4 U.S. Department of Justice. (2018) The evaluation of the "My Life" mentoring program for youth in foster care found less criminal offending in early adulthood among male participants. Retrieved from: https://www.ncjrs.gov/pdffiles1/ojjdp/grants/251626.pdf
5 Casa of Arizona. (2017). Child Abuse in Arizona (6-month period). Retrieved from: http://www.azcourts.gov/casa/Child-Welfare/Child-Welfare-Stats
6 Annie E. Casey Foundation. (2018). Kids Count Data Center. Retrieved from: https://datacenter.kidscount.org/data/tables/6277-children-exiting-foster-care-by-exit-reason?loc=4&loct=2#detailed/2/4/false/870,573,869,36,868,867,133,38,35,18/2631,2636,2632,2633,2630,2629,2635,2634/13050,13051
7 Arizona Department of Child Safety. (2018). Semi-Annual Child Welfare report. Retrieved from: https://dcs.az.gov/reports-data/dcs-reports
8 51 Useful Aging out of Foster Care Statistics. (2017). National Foster Youth Institute. Retrieved from: https://www.nfyi.org/51-useful-aging-out-of-foster-care-statistics-social-race-media/

Morrison Institute blogs are intended to further public discourse regarding key and timely issues via diverse voices, expertise and experiences – including, when appropriate, in pro-and-con format. Blogs do not represent any official position of Morrison Institute for Public Policy or Arizona State University.