There are approximately 25,000 transition age foster youth (age 16 to 24) who have or will most likely age out of the foster care system without a permanent family. Research shows that within four years of aging out, their outcomes are dire:
- 70% will be on government assistance; 50% will be unemployed;
- 50% will experience homelessness;
- 33% will have dropped-out of high school;
- and less than 8% will ever earn a college degree.
These outcomes are not due to the inability of our foster youth to succeed, but rather our collectively inability to connect them to the resources they need to succeed. For example:
- Only 22% of foster youth receive job training and employment support prior to leaving care despite 2,400 America Job Centers across the US with specific youth employment programs,
- 46% report they don’t get enough post-secondary help, only 27% ever the foster youth support program on their college campus, 30% don’t even know these resources exist,
- and while TAY state the biggest challenge while in college is financial, only 50% receive Pell Grant, despite 100% being eligible,
- the end result, less than 20% feel ready to be independent when they age out of care.
But it turns out there is a powerful solution – the transition-age foster youth (TAY) themselves. View findings from the California Youth Transitions to Adulthood Study indicating the impact that connection to resources has on foster youth. Who better to understand the needs of their peers and help them get what they need, when they need it. View findings from the California Youth Transitions to Adulthood Study indicating the impact that connection to resources has on foster youth.
In 2019, iFoster launched their TAY AmeriCorps Program in California which utilizes a peer-to-peer model that hires and trains current and former foster youth to connect their peers to the academic, employment, basic needs, and health/wellness resources they need to be successful. The program won Best New AmeriCorps Program nationally in 2019. In two years, the program has reached over 20,000 transition-age foster youth across 53 counties in California, connecting them to one or more existing resources or services they were not previously accessing to support their transition to self-sufficiency.
A survey of over 4,000 reports that these youth feel better supported to be independent. And 67% request ongoing check-ins from their TAY AmeriCorps peers to provide knowledge about and access to resources. Simultaneously, the program has developed the professional skills of 100 current and former foster youth who served as TAY AmeriCorps members. Alumni have returned to serve and have earned permanent employment within their career.
We are growing this peer power outside of California, with expansion into Washington state in 2021, and additional states in discussions.
Peers are powerful. In foster care, they can make all the difference.