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Have you ever heard of the term “aging out”? In regards to foster care, it refers to children in foster care who become too old to qualify for care. Traditionally, the magical age has been 18, which is when children reach legal adulthood. They might be advised to join the military, or given enough money for a bus ticket to a city of their choice. After that, the foster care system is no longer involved in their lives.

Few 18-year-olds, whether or not they have been in foster care, have the skills or mindset to survive completely on their own. According to these statistics provided by the National Foster Youth Institute, 20% of 18-year-olds who age out of foster care become homeless immediately. Covenant House, an organization that provides services to homeless youth, reports that 1/3 of teens who use their services aged out of the foster care system. Another study shows that 50% of youth aging out of foster care end up in prison or jail within two years. Aged out teens also commonly face mental health issues, unemployment, and poverty.

Independent Living Programs

These statistics are bleak. This is why some agencies are now creating independent living programs for teenagers in foster care. Pathways Family Services, in Kansas, is a prime example. Their program is called Teens Reaching Adult Independent Living, or TRAIL. It serves youth ages 17 to 22 who are in state custody.


Social services, social worker, psychologist, psychiatrist, foster home, student and teacher in an independent living program

A young woman and a teenage boy shaking hands.

The program is designed to help youth get their lives on track. Those who have not yet graduated from high school are expected to either attend high school or a GED program. If they’ve already completed high school or have a GED, they can either further their education or volunteer in the community. They are expected to have jobs or participate in an Employment Enhancement Program. They get support with learning job skills, creating resumes, searching for jobs, and going on job interviews. Participants also learn how to budget and save their money.

Youth in TRAIL get training in “adulting” skills such as cooking, cleaning, shopping, and communicating. They receive case management and have access to therapists and mentors.

By the time they are ready to leave the TRAILS program, participants should have been employed for 120 days, have $1,500 saved up, have a meaningful connection with a mentor, and have a place to move into.

Learn More About Independent Living Program for Teens in Foster Care

There is no way for TRAILS to guarantee that each youth will lead a successful life. But TRAILS at least gives them a chance to beat the statistics.

For more information about Pathways Family Services or independent living program, feel free to contact us.