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Granite State Rumblings: Empty Nesters Can Use Empty Room To Help Foster Children Transition To Adulthood

Image by William Hook (FLICKR CC)

Image by William Hook (FLICKR CC)

When the youngest of our five children went off to college we put our house on the market and downsized. And then we celebrated being empty nesters. But that didn’t last long, as many parents basking in the glow of empty nester-hood can attest to.

The transition from carefree teenager to young adult is tough for many kids, but it can be particularly tough for youth aging out of the foster care system. This was especially true for a former foster child who I got to know when I became his educational surrogate parent. When he graduated from high school his placement at a group home ended. And that ended his stable housing. So our guest room became his bedroom when he faced times of homelessness.

Youth who age out of foster care face a number of challenges. Among the greatest may be achieving housing stability. A number of studies published over the past two decades have found high rates of homelessness among former foster youth who aged out of care. Although this suggests that youth who age out of foster care are at high risk of becoming homeless, not much is known about which youth are most at risk.

From Chapin’s Hall, inside the Research, here’s some information about possible predictors of homelessness during the transition from foster care to adulthood.

Researchers at Chapin Hall recently used survey data from the Midwest Evaluation of the Adult Functioning of Former Foster Youth (the Midwest Study) to address this gap in the research. The Midwest Study followed more than 700 study participants from 2002-2003, when they were age 17 or 18, through 2010-2011, when they were age 26, as they transitioned out of foster care in three Midwestern states: Illinois, Iowa, and Wisconsin.

Consistent with results of prior studies, the researchers found a high rate of homelessness among the Midwest Study sample. By age 26, 36% of the young people whose outcomes were known had reported at least one episode of homelessness. (“Homeless” was defined as having to “sleep in a place where people weren’t meant to sleep, or sleep in a homeless shelter, or [not having] a regular residence in which to sleep.”) This means that more than one in three of the young people in the Midwest Study were homeless for at least one night after aging out of foster care.

The study’s longitudinal design allowed researchers to look at the relationship between the risk of becoming homeless and a variety of factors. Their analysis identified six factors that were associated with an increased risk of becoming homeless.

The risk of becoming homeless was higher for young people who had run away at least once from a foster care placement and for those who had experienced more placement changes. Additionally, being male, having been physically abused prior to entering foster care, engaging in more delinquent behaviors, and having symptoms of a mental health disorder were also associated with a higher risk of homelessness.

Although researchers found some support for the idea that closeness to family would be a protective factor, the evidence was weak. They speculated that their definition of family may have been too narrow because it only included biological parents and grandparents.

The findings from this study suggest that much remains to be done to prevent young people aging out of foster care from becoming homeless. This includes ensuring that all youth have a concrete plan for housing after they age out, providing opportunities for youth to build financial assets, and increasing the availability of housing assistance specifically for this population. These results also point to a need for more targeted interventions, such as more hands-on housing search assistance and transitional living programs, aimed at those who are most at risk of homelessness. Equally important is evaluating those interventions to learn what approaches are most effective in preventing homelessness and with whom they work best.

I am happy to report that our guest room has been just that for more than a year. Having a stable housing situation allowed him to concentrate on finding a job that would allow him to earn enough to rent an apartment and save for the deposit and utility fees. When he comes by now it is to pick up some mail or find out what’s cooking in the crock pot. But he and all of our kids know that the guest room is always available if needed.

GROWING UP GRANITE

New Hampshire’s Educational Surrogate Parent Program

The Educational Surrogate Parent Program, coordinated through the New Hampshire Department of Education, Bureau of Special Education, provides educationally disabled children, throughout the State, who need special education and their parent(s) or guardian is unknown or unavailable, or after reasonable efforts cannot be located or the child is in custody or guardianship of the state, with an educational surrogate parent to act as the child’s educational decision-maker in the special education process.

The Program certifies volunteers, who successfully complete the training and training requirements, to act as educational surrogate parents. Once certified, volunteers are appointed to a child and that appointment is effective until the child reaches 18 years of age, and may be extended in certain cases until the child graduates high school or reaches the age of 21, whichever occurs first.

To become a certified educational surrogate parent, you must be at least 21 years of age, successfully complete a nine hour training, pass the educational surrogate parent test, and complete an application that includes a background check.

Educational surrogate parents only represent a child in their education and they are not responsible for any direct care of financial cost associated with the child. Specifically, as an educational surrogate parent, you would fill the role of a parent at all of the child’s Special Education Team meetings.

How to become a Volunteer Educational Surrogate Parent

For more information contact:
Amy Jenks, Program Coordinator
(603) 271-3842 or Amy.Jenks@doe.nh

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About MaryLou Beaver

New Hampshire Campaign Director Every Child Matters Education Fund
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