SOMERS POINT — Every year more than 20,000 youth across the country age out of the foster care system. Court Appointed Special Advocates for Children of Atlantic and Cape May Counties is one local organization trying to help older foster youth make lasting connections and prepare for adulthood if they leave foster care without a permanent home.
As many as 50 percent of youth who age out of foster care are likely to become homeless. This year, National Adoption Month is providing resources on how the voices of older youth can help professionals ensure “forever families” for teenagers in foster care.
“CASA has worked with foster youth for 17 years and has seen first-hand the negative effects of children lingering in the foster care system. Children ages 7 to 17 are at greater risk of not finding a permanent home and aging out of the system. This means that they are often left on their own at age 18 with no family to call their own,” said CASA Executive Director Angie Waters. “These youth have minimal skills, a high school education, at best, and lack the basic knowledge to live on their own. You can imagine what happens to these youth,” Waters said. “Homeless, jobless or underemployed, these youth can turn to crime and drugs as a means to survive. A young person bereft of any family ties lacks the foundational support and guidance that all youth need as they mature into adulthood.”
Having permanent adult and family connections provides teenagers with the critical legal and emotional support that all young people need as they transition into adulthood, continue their education, seek employment and start new relationships.
CASA volunteers specifically help this age group by encouraging educational achievement, ensuring sibling and parental visits to keep family relations intact, recommending appropriate long-term placements and helping improve social relations.
“As with all children living in care, CASA’s number one priority is to help them find a permanent home so they do not age out of the system. If a permanent home is not possible, we want them to be as prepared for the future as they can be,” said Waters.
For more than two decades, National Adoption Month has been promoted and celebrated every November in communities across the country. Many national, state, and local agencies, as well as foster, kinship care and adoptive family groups, will help educate their communities through programs, events and activities that help raise awareness about the thousands of children and youth in foster care who are waiting for their own permanent families.
This annual campaign, sponsored by the Children’s Bureau of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, encourages communities to support the thousands of children across the country in need of permanent families. For more information about National Adoption Month, see childwelfare.gov/topics/adoption/nam.
Individuals interested in becoming a CASA volunteer should attend an information session. They are held three times per month at the CASA office in Somers Point and throughout the community. For more information, call 609-601-7800 or see AtlanticCapeCASA.org.