In 2012, more than 23,000 children turned 18 and “aged out” of the foster care system in the U.S., according to federal statistics. Without parents or guardians for support, these children often face the usual challenges of growing up without parental advice or guidance. And unlike teenagers and young adults who gradually learn to deal with real-world challenges, these former foster care children are thrown into adulthood headfirst. The day they turn 18, they exit the system and must care for themselves – signing an apartment lease, applying for jobs, learning to cook, and graduating high school all on their own.
Unsurprisingly, these responsibilities and challenges overwhelm many former foster care children, many of whom have also experienced traumatic and unstable childhoods. Without a support system, they are far more likely than their peers to face issues like unemployment, illness, homelessness, and incarceration.
Fortunately, there are a number of organizations across the country dedicated to easing the transition for these young adults and facilitating pro bono legal aid. These programs make it easier for individual attorneys to get involved, either in a specific case or through their clinics. For example:
- In Seattle, the Center for Children & Youth Justice’s “Lawyers Fostering Independence” program sponsors volunteer clinics on legal rights and helps connect children who have aged out of the foster care system and are now 17-23 years old with pro bono legal aid.
- In Los Angeles, the Alliance for Children’s Rights’ “NextStep Program” provides transitioning young adults with skills training and educates them on their legal rights.
- Florida’s Children First aids former foster care children through their program “Justice for Foster Youth at LAST (Lawyers Assisting Successful) Transition),” which brings together transitioning youth with pro bono attorneys to guide and advise them up to age 25.
The PBEye has recognized the efforts of several law firms to help these young adults, but the need is great and the opportunities to assist are available to all attorneys.
Children aging out of the foster care system face some daunting obstacles as they enter the adult world, both legal and personal. Pro bono legal aid can make a meaningful and tangible impact on the lives of these at-risk teens and help them navigate these critical years.
Hat tip to PBI intern Samantha Fry for her assistance with this blog.