'A very real fear': Children 'ageing out of foster care' need more support

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"Children ageing out of foster care systems are morely to be homeless or unemployment compared to their peers. Photo: Getty Images
"Children ageing out of foster care systems are morely to be homeless or unemployment compared to their peers. Photo: Getty Images

While 18 is considered the legal age of consent in South Africa, few are genuinely prepared for adult life at this age.

For kids in the foster care system, turning 18 years old can be considered a crisis point. 

With little to no support, coming of age is riddled with numerous challenges, with housing instability being a crucial struggle. 

Former foster kids are also more likely to earn less and have no qualifications compared to their peers a study published by the USA's Institute of Medicine and National Research Council shows. 

Additionally, "ageing out of foster care" makes mental health struggles and substance abuse, more likely the study highlights.

"They have more problems with mental health than the general population, often experience poorer physical health than other young adults, and have been found by most studies to have high rates of drug and alcohol abuse and dependence".  

Read: 40 years ago 'welfare people' took my son, and I've never seen him again

What causes this?

Previously fostered children are experiencing challenges worldwide, but what separates South Africa's kids is the lack of adequate housing, says Monica Goemans, in her mini-thesis on the experiences of youth who aged out of the foster care system in Cape Town.

Of her findings she writes: 

"Unless there is some stability in terms of meeting basic needs, youth will be unable to succeed. Going into adulthood not knowing what support is available was a very real fear for many of the participants in this study. In order to then assist youth age out of care successfully practical support needs to be offered, and the youth need to be made aware of the different supports that are available". 

Another local study published in 2019 on the need to prepare youth ageing out of foster care found that while South Africa's legislation does make provisions for independent living for children exiting the system, there is a lack guidelines to assist social workers. 

"The findings indicated that the participants felt unprepared for life after foster care and that there is a need for programs to prepare youth for ageing out of foster care in South Africa". 

Must read: Inspired by her own experiences, local gender activist opens a shelter for survivors of domestic violence

The kind of support needed

A systematic review published in 2016 by US researchers on natural mentoring among older youth in foster care explains that the presence of a mentor or a positive role model plays a crucial role when children exit the foster care system.

Finding employment before exiting foster care also helps, found another US study

This study highlighted that young people in foster care who work before they turn 18 may be more likely to find consistent and higher-paying work after transitioning out of care.

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