This year and every year, about 1,000 young people across Pennsylvania "age out" of the foster care system.
150 foster youth ages 16 to 21 are in Johnstown this week for a retreat to help them transition more smoothly to adulthood. The retreat is at the Pitt Johnstown campus and is intended to motivate participants to pursue higher education. The event is hosted by the Pennsylvania Department of Welfare, which oversees foster care in the state, and the University of Pittsburgh School of Social Work. Wendy Unger of the School for Social Work says it features educational sessions, group discussions and social activities..."we hope they come away with a sense of determination, that education is important...and being in foster care doesn't define you, you define who you are."
Unger says that youth aging out of the foster system need resources beyond age 21..."so we do a lot of support of permanent connections from the time they come into foster care to make sure they don't age out without the resources for someone to help them transition into successful adulthood."
Unger says young people in non-foster homes need support and nowadays most aren't leaving their parents' homes till they're 26. So, she says, it's important for their counterparts in foster homes to have support and resources to help them deal with their struggles with everything from auto insurance to health insurance to employment to where they're going to live.
Under state law, youth leave the foster system at age 18, or at 21 if they are in treatment or in post-secondary education. There are about 20,000 youth in foster care in Pennsylvania, about half of them are more than 14 years old.