Studies show those who leave foster care at 18 are more likely to drop out of school, become homeless or end up in jail.
“National statistics of youth aging out of foster care are not always so promising,” said Kelsey Bless, the Permanency Administrator at North Dakota’s Department of Human Services Children and Family Services Division.
That’s why North Dakota’s Human Services Department has overseen its 18+ Continued Care program since 2012. It supports youth leaving foster care until they’re 21.
“Stability with housing, support with case management, supervised independent living settings,” Bless said, among other support.
With a recent boost in federal funding, those who aged out during the pandemic can now receive support until they’re 22. Bless says it’s already improved outcomes for some participants, like one person who was finishing a tech school training program.
“When completing that program, he was going to turn 21, complete this program and not have his current apartment setting. But because of the extension, it granted him that extra two months of being in the program so he can identify which placement he might want to move in, which apartment works best. So really it’s going hand in hand with ensuring stability,” Bless said.
Adoption agencies say extended care is helpful, but before that, teens still need a family.
That includes those at Catholic Charities North Dakota, which runs a program providing all foster care adoption services for the state.
“Just because they might turn 18 doesn’t mean that they don’t need a family, and I think that’s a misinterpretation sometimes, when kids are teenagers, why would they need an adopted family? But really the focus is, where do you go for Christmas when you have no family if you don’t really have anybody to go home to? I think it’s just the emphasis that home and family mean a lot more than just when a child turns 18,” Adults Adopting Special Kids Program Supervisor Vanessa Diebert said.
Diebert says finding homes for older kids is a challenge.
“They are some of the most amazing kids that you will meet. That’s really the main focus of what we’re needing, is families open to adopting older children,” Diebert said.
Despite the pandemic, Diebert says the agency will have completed more home assessments and finalized more adoptions this year compared to last.
The program helps about 55 people every year. Those who want to participate in the expanded eligibility have until Sept. 30 to contact their case manager.