Teen Health and Housing After Aging Out of Foster Care

Teen Health and Housing After Aging Out of Foster CareFoster care has been a frequent topic of discussion lately; there have been heart breaking-stories (like foster families helping ease anxiety of immigrant children placed in foster care while separated from parents), as well as heart-warming stories like the clothing store in Florida who has special shopping hours just for children in foster care. There are many reports available about the health of children while in foster care, but what happens to the teenager who “ages out” of the foster care system?

Teens who are in the foster care system face challenging social stressors after leaving foster care when they turn 18 years old. Every year 24,000 US foster adolescents age out of foster care. The period after leaving foster care can be a rough transition. These teens are at high risk of bouncing from one living situation to another, which is termed “housing instability.” It’s been estimated that more than 35% of them may experience homelessness after leaving foster care.

How is housing related to teen health? More ways than you’d think. For example, having a stable place where a teen calls “home” seems to actually help teens avoid engaging in risky sexual behaviors. Some of the risky sexual behaviors include exchanging sex for money or drugs, not using condoms consistently, and having multiple sexual partners. Having stable housing also helps teen mental health by helping them to have high self-esteem.

Different programs have tried to make sure that teens who grow out of foster care have more support when it comes to housing. One program, for example, called the New York City/New York State–Initiated Third Supportive Housing Program was started through a partnership between New York City and New York State in 2007. They called it NYNY III for short. It provides housing that is supportive for people at risk of homelessness, and it focused special attention on teens aging out of foster care.

So did the program actually help former foster teens have better housing stability after they grew out of foster care? In short, yes. Those teens who were in the program were more than four times more likely to have stable housing during the 2 years after they grew out of foster care compared to those who were not in the program.

Former foster adolescents are also more likely to engage in risky sexual behaviors that may lead to sexually transmitted infections, also called STIs, like chlamydia and gonorrhea. The  NYNYIII program helped to decrease the number of STIs the teens had after they left foster care. Teens who were in the program had less than half the risk of having STIs after they grew out of foster care compared to those who were not in the program.

So these types of programs may help with both housing and health risks among former foster adolescents.  In Wisconsin, the Department of Children and Families can give foster teens more information about services available to them after they turn 18.  If you or your teen are concerned about housing and health risks, your doctor’s office can help you get connected to the resources available to you.