For many of Arizona’s 14,500 foster youth – and more than 440,000 foster youth nationwide – life after leaving foster care can offer few guarantees. Childhoods filled with challenge – constant movement, chronic health problems, poor education, even neglect and abuse – typically yield difficult prospects in adulthood, with a potentially lifelong impact.
With May marking National Foster Care Month, let’s recognize that we can do better by these young people. Indeed, in Arizona, we are making meaningful progress.
Twice as many Arizona kids have jobs
Ongoing employment is essential to healthful adulthood. But nationally, about six in 10 former foster youth are unemployed one year after leaving care; about half are jobless after five years.
Nearly 24% of former foster youth experience homelessness; by comparison, less than 1% of Americans are homeless at some point in any given year. Even more disturbingly, nearly two-thirds of male former foster youth – and three in 10 women — spend time in jail after age 17. Less than 1% of the U.S. population is imprisoned.
There are hopeful signs in Arizona. According to the Annie E. Casey Foundation, 88% of former foster youth in Arizona are employed full- or part-time by age 21; across the country, the figure is 49%.
We need to build that trend – keeping in mind that 68% of Arizona jobs will require a post-secondary education by 2020.
For young people – and foster youth especially – university and college campuses are places to begin appreciating all the positive possibilities of adulthood, including fulfilling employment, and to learn how to realize those possibilities.
The next step: Help with college
Yet, just 50% of foster youth complete high school by age 18; of these, just two in 10 enter college. Only 3% of former foster youth aged 25 and older have a bachelor’s degree, vs. 31% of Americans generally.
In Arizona, we strive to do more. At Arizona State University, First Star, a national non-profit, offers an innovative college preparatory program giving high school-age foster youth support and skills needed to successfully move on to higher education and adulthood.
Across the 12 U.S. university and college campuses with similar First Star Academy programs, approximately nine in 10 graduates successfully advance to college.
With immersive residential summers, monthly school-year sessions and dedicated mentoring, First Star leverages the Access ASU program’s demonstrated success in preparing Arizona high school students to enter ASU and ultimately the workforce.
WellCare Health Plans – recognizing that education leading to employment is critical for personal health and well-being – is providing new funding to dramatically broaden First Star’s impact. WellCare’s support will help First Star build beyond its current student cohort from Maricopa County and recruit students from across Arizona.
Everyone has a stake in the future of foster youth – and failure to help has a cost. If our young adults can’t reach their full potential, the human cost is profound too.
Scott Cummings is the state president of Care1st Health Plan Arizona, and Edmundo Hidalgo is vice president of outreach partnerships at Arizona State University.