After 18, Foster Kids Face Tough Road Ahead

New research shows that less that half of former foster youth are employed at 23, and only six percent have finished college. Mark Courtney, research and development director at Partners For Our Children, and Jeremy Long, who aged out of foster care three years ago at 18, talk about the challenges facing foster kids as they grow up.

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NEAL CONAN, host:

This is TALK OF THE NATION. Im Neal Conan, in Washington.

Every year, almost 30,000 kids age out of the foster care system after childhoods when many move from house to house and school to school. For most foster kids, the day they turn 18, they're suddenly on their own, responsible to find a place to live, manage their money, they're suddenly on their own, responsible to find a place to live, manage their money, their shopping, their clothing, their food and try to continue their education, all when most of their peers still get help from mom and dad.

New research confirms the common-sense conclusion: A lot of former foster kids have a hard time with all of these abrupt changes. They're less likely to find a job, go to college or even find a place to sleep every night.

If you were once in foster care, what happened when you left the system? What made a difference for you? What might have helped? Tell us your story. Our phone number is 800-989-8255. Email us: talk@npr.org. You can also join the conversation at our Web site. That's at npr.org. Just click on TALK OF THE NATION.

Joining me here today in Studio 3A is Jeremy Long, who aged out of the foster care system three years ago, and he is in many ways an exception: now a senior at the University of Northern Colorado, also works with current and former foster youth as a member of the Bridging the Gap Youth Leadership Board in Denver. Jeremy Long, nice to have you with us today on TALK OF THE NATION.

Mr. JEREMY LONG (Member, Bridging the Gap Youth Leadership Board): Thank you for having me.

CONAN: And tell us what that day is like. Suddenly, you've been in the system your whole life. Suddenly, you turn 18.

Mr. LONG: Yeah, for me, it was actually an okay position, just for the fact that being in foster care, I had a very positive experience. So like most foster youth, when they age out at the age of 18, they're kind of on their own, but I was able to really create those networks and those connections that are still in my life today that have really helped me get to where I am.

CONAN: And you were fortunate to have just one foster parent through your entire experience.

Mr. LONG: Yes.

CONAN: And how has that helped?

Mr. LONG: It's actually been extremely beneficial, just for the fact that I didn't have to get used to numerous different families, which is very hard on the emotional state of a lot of foster youth. And to this day, we're still in connection, and to this day, she's still my mom. So...

CONAN: And to this day, she's still your mom. And that's really important. That's one of the things we learn from this new research that's out today: continuing relationship with caring adults. And how is she doing?

Mr. LONG: She's doing quite well.

CONAN: Good. And so she's putting up with you.

Mr. LONG: Yes, still.

(Soundbite of laughter)

CONAN: Still. Well, we'll have to see when you get back. We're talking about foster kids, and we'd like you to join the conversation. If you aged out of the foster care system, give us a call: 800-989-8255. Email us: talk@npr.org. And let's turn to Joy, Joy's with us on the line from Charlotte.

JOY (Caller): Hi, how are you?

CONAN: I'm well, thank you.

JOY: Good.

CONAN: Did you age out of foster care?

JOY: I certainly did. I aged out like everyone else at age 18, but I was in college. I had gone into college when I was 17, and so I knew that I would have that extra subsidy per month as long as I was in school.

CONAN: The student loan.

JOY: Well, it wasn't quite a student loan. There was a subsidy that stayed in effect until I was 21. The trick is that I didn't graduate by the time I was 21, and so I was suddenly left without that income stream and ended up relying entirely on student loans.

CONAN: And that can be tricky.

JOY: It can be very tricky. I went on from there to graduate school, still relying on student loans. And now I'm struggling because even though I'm a working professional in an executive director job at a nonprofit, I have over $200,000 in loan debt that I have to figure out how to pay back.

CONAN: And, of course, a lot of people have that problem, but it's certainly not easy for anybody. I wonder, as you were considering this problem when you were 18 and then again at 21, did you feel abandoned?

JOY: Well, of course I did, right? Because I had - you know, I didn't have parents that were paying for school for me like other people were. I didn't feel as though there was anyone there really looking out for my interests, and I really felt as though at 18, all the decisions that I needed to make were encumbered on me without any wise advice.

CONAN: And is there a special feeling of accomplishment now that you've gotten to where you are?

JOY: Oh, I think certainly. I just would go back and have, obviously, you know, done it on a little bit more of a maybe fiscally responsible manner.

CONAN: And maybe that five-year college program.

JOY: Right, right. No, without any question. And so I think, you know, I would go back and attribute that to say, well, I accomplished a lot on my own two feet, but really, I would probably be in a much better situation had I had responsible, loving, caring adults helping me with those decisions.

CONAN: Joy, thanks very much, and congratulations.

JOY: Thank you.

CONAN: Good luck with those loans.

JOY: Thanks. Bye.

CONAN: Bye-bye. Joining us now is Mark Courtney. He is research and development director of Partners For Our Children at the University of Washington School of Social Work. He's been following youth who have aged out of foster care since 2002, lead researcher for a new report from Partners for our Children and Chapin Hall at the University of Chicago. Thanks very much for being here with us in Studio 3A today.

Dr. MARK COURTNEY (Research and Development Director, Partners For Our Children, School of Social Work, University of Washington): Good to be here.

CONAN: And Joy, who we heard from, and Jeremy, who we heard from, they are -well, it's nice to hear from them, but they're exceptions.

Dr. COURTNEY: Well, they're exceptions, but they actually represent an important group. I mean, we've been following 700 young people for a number of years now, from 17 at this point to 23, 24, and on average, yes, young people transitioning from foster care as a group aren't faring well.

They're - less than half of them are employed at 23, very high rates of involvement with the criminal justice system, lots of struggling parents, rely on public assistance. But they're - you know, actually Joy and Jeremy represent maybe as many as half of the young people aging out that are doing okay, but struggling to do okay.

They're working really hard. They finished high school, and they have some college. It sounds like Joy has, you know, more than some college.

CONAN: More than some, and more than some debt, too.

Dr. COURTNEY: Yeah, and that's unusual. I mean, we find, you know, only about six percent of young people we're talking to at 23, 24 have any kind of college degree.

CONAN: And more than four times more likely than that not to have a high school degree.

Dr. COURTNEY: That's right. That's right. The young men are six times more likely than their peers to be convicted of a crime. One-quarter of the population are really struggling parents who are barely making ends meet. They're still parenting, they haven't lost their kids.

And then we've got a big group that, in fact, have lost their kids, have been involved in the criminal system, et cetera. So I think the trick is following the philosophy that Joy and Jeremy are talking about, is to continue to be a parent, in a sense.

The child welfare system took these young people away from their parents and kind of abandons that role at 18. And like any family, you've got a range of the family, some that are going to go right to college, some that are going to need a lot of help. I think that's true of these young people, as well.

CONAN: Jeremy, let me ask you: What do you tell foster youth as they approach their 18th birthday, people who may not have been as fortunate as you?

Mr. LONG: I pretty much just tell them that, I mean, even though that life has thrown a lot of unfortunate circumstances your way, if you have the mental capacity and hopefully the proper connections, you can easily overcome them and become successful in whichever way you choose.

CONAN: Easily?

Mr. LONG: Not always easily, but for some people, like six percent of us do have those connections that are definitely going to help us get there.

CONAN: And the emotional part of it - yes, it's a lot of hard work, but the emotional part of it, for so many people, that feeling of abandonment - of course, Joy mentioned it. There's not much you can do about it, but there it is. And the huge responsibilities: a lot of well, responsible adults, theoretically, have problems getting their laundry done on time, much less kids suddenly thrown out on their own at the age of 18.

Mr. LONG: Yeah.

CONAN: What's there to say about that? Yes, of course.

Mr. LONG: It's definitely unfortunate. I think with the emotional state, I was fortunate enough in foster care to be placed in therapy, which really helped me. It definitely got my emotional state where I was capable of handling any situation.

CONAN: All right. Let's get another caller in on the conversation. April joins us from Minneapolis.

APRIL (Caller): Oh, hi, Neal. How is it going today?

CONAN: Oh, not too bad.

APRIL: Excellent. I was very fortunate. When I got kicked out of foster care at age 18, I had a phenomenal social worker because, you know, I was completely terrified. I had no life skills. I wasn't taught anything. You know, I didn't have any job or anything that I could fall back on.

And my social worker, because, you know, he had - his own county would not let me stay in the foster care system because I was not in college. He found - he went out. He found another home, a foster care home, that was sitting unused in another county, and he basically got special dispensation from his bosses to basically funnel me money every month, and then I would just pay these people as boarders in their household.

So I wasn't in the foster care system, but I was still renting. You know, I still had a place to stay. I still had a roof over my head. And that six months that I got with that home made all the difference in the world to me.

I was - you know, instead of being forced to, you know, get any job I could, a minimum wage job, get into drug dealing, get into whatever I could to, you know, have food and a roof over my head, instead I was able to, you know, get a nice job, you know, in a stable company.

And because of that, you know, I have a great job now. I'm married. My life is really awesome. You know, if it wasn't for that social worker who really, like, stuck his neck out, I would have been - I would have been lost, like most foster kids who get kicked out of the system.

CONAN: And I hope you invite him every Thanksgiving.

APRIL: Oh, I do. In fact, I'm one of the few kids that he still sees on a regular basis. You know, I just saw an article in the New York Times about, you know, about how few foster kids actually make it, you know, after they get kicked out of foster care.

He said I was one of just a handful of the thousands of kids he's seen, you know, who made it into the University of Minnesota and who's actually been successful, which is really sad. But he's one of my best friends, and I, you know, I basically consider him my dad at this point.

CONAN: Well, you should. It sounds like he really went out of his way to help. April, thanks so much, and continued good luck to you.

APRIL: Thank you very much, Neal. You have a great day now.

CONAN: You, too. And Mark Courtney, that's another heartwarming story, but by the edge of her - the skin of her teeth, a social worker willing to go out on the edge.

Dr. COURTNEY: Yeah. We certainly need people like that. We need adults in the lives of these young people to help them negotiate this transition to adulthood. But we don't want to rely on the good graces of that, and I think...

CONAN: Of happenstance. Yes, there ought to be a system for that.

Dr. COURTNEY: Right. And you hear her worker says you're the exception, really. And I think that the trick is for us to get more serious about having policies that increase the likelihood that young people who actually could go on to college - I think almost half of these young people probably could pretty much immediately go to college. They're not. You've got some exceptions that do.

So there are some things we can do to support them in terms of continued housing, support, adults in their lives. But right now, almost everywhere in the country basically kicks these young people out at 18.

The handful of places that don't - one of which, Illinois, is in our study - I think do a much better job of ensuring those kinds of connections are there. And you begin to see more young people going to school, less homelessness right off the bat at 18, delayed pregnancies, when you continue to act like a parent - you know, when we as a society, through our child welfare system, continue to act like a parent.

CONAN: Well, there's some questions about the efficacy of that extra help, from 18 to 21. Of course, from 18 to 21, they're going to do better. After that, they don't seem to do much better than the kids who got out at 18.

Dr. COURTNEY: Well, we've looked at a few things. I mean, for example, it looks like extending care - now, we only have Illinois. Let's be clear. This is one approach to extending care to 21. But it looks like it delays homelessness, doesn't prevent it altogether.

It looks like - in fact, young people are more likely to have college. They're much more likely to have some college by the age of 23, 24, if they were allowed to remain in care. But they're not necessarily more likely to have a degree by then. So I think it's a mixed story.

CONAN: We'll continue talking about the new research on kids who age out of foster care and continue to talk with Jeremy Long, one of the success stories, about to graduate from college in Colorado.

Stay with us. We want to hear from you. If you have aged out of foster care, tell us your story: 800-989-8255. Email us: talk@npr.org. Stay with us. I'm Neal Conan, TALK OF THE NATION, NPR News.

(Soundbite of music)

CONAN: This is TALK OF THE NATION. Im Neal Conan in Washington.

Since 2002, researchers have been following some 700 youth in foster care. They interviewed the kids at various times as they got older to get a sense of what happens to these young people when they leave foster care. Results are not encouraging.

While some young people do well and manage to find jobs and housing and schooling, far too many end up homeless, drop out of school, are unemployed. Sadly, many of them end up convicted of a crime.

Our focus today is what happens to youth when they age out of foster care. We want to hear from you if that is your story. Give us a call, 800-989-8255. Email us, talk@npr.org. What happened to you when you left the system? What made a difference? What might have helped?

Our guests are Jeremy Long, who aged out of foster care three years ago, a member now of Bridging the Gap Youth Leadership Board in Denver, working with current and former foster youth and about to graduate from the University of Northern Colorado.

Also with us, Mark Courtney, who conducted a lot of that research that we're talking about. He works at the University of Washington School of Social Work and a lead researcher on that report at the Chapin Hall and the University of Chicago. They're both with us here in Studio 3A. Let's get another caller on the line and go to Michael, Michael calling us from Portland, Oregon.

MICHAEL (Caller): Hi, long-time listener, first-time caller.

CONAN: Thank you for that.

MICHAEL: I worked with children in foster care for 15 years, teenagers, and the issue is more than aging out. We had the IOP program, the independent living program, which by law when a child is 16 in foster care, they can voluntarily participate in the program to teach them the skills they will need to become independent adults.

The problem was that the system is set up so that they don't get what they need, which is stability, predictability and consistency. The workload is so heavy that workers change all the time. They not only change foster homes, they change workers.

So kids never get to establish that adult - because when you're a social worker with this group or population of kids, you are effectively a surrogate father. And when you don't have the opportunity to stay with kids and support them through - and particularly, all across the country, they have cut mental health services to these kids.

CONAN: And I see Mark Courtney, you're shaking your head in agreement.

MICHAEL: They get to see a therapist now, every other week, and then the therapist changes all the time.

CONAN: I just wanted to get a comment from Mark Courtney on this.

Dr. COURTNEY: I think that this is he points out something very important, that the young people in care, in addition to coming in care with lots of challenges. I mean, one thing that the audience might not understand is that most of these young people aging out actually came into care as adolescents.

So they were in difficult situations, troubled homes for a long time. Then they come into care, and quite often, they do bounce around a lot. They don't necessarily get all the help they need. And in our research, some of the most important predictors we see of later success, are things like being on track in school, having your mental health needs addressed while you're in care, and the kind of social support you get from adults.

But I think we have to keep in mind, most of these young people actually have families. So it's a bit tricky, right. It's not the case that they're orphans, and they don't have families. They came into care as adolescents.

And so we need to help them maintain the healthy relationships that exist in their family, but then also as this person was saying - obviously a really long-time social worker - we have to be surrogate parents, as well, and it's complicated because they have a lot of people in their lives.

CONAN: Jeremy, you went into foster care at age 13, correct?

Mr. LONG: Yes.

CONAN: And then later had the advantage of therapy.

Mr. LONG: I did, and it was actually a nice situation for me. I was one of those fortunate youth that I had two therapists, but that was over the span of four years. And the reason my first one left was because of retirement, and then we went into another one, who was very stable and was there until the end.

CONAN: So very helpful to you, and would you recommend it for a lot of the kids in your situation?

Mr. LONG: I would. I would say it's definitely helped me a lot.

CONAN: All right, thank you. Michael, thanks very much for the call, appreciate it.

MICHAEL: Thank you.

CONAN: Bye-bye. Let's go next to Michelle(ph), Michelle calling us from San Francisco.

MICHELLE (Caller): Hi, Neal, thanks for having me.

CONAN: Sure, go ahead please.

MICHELLE: So I came out of foster care when I was 17, went into college only because of foster care, pretty much. My parents didn't go to school. So that helped. That was a benefit. I got a job over at the dorms, where I pretty much paid for my living there. So that saved me a lot.

But I really wish that I would have had a network of other alumni, foster care alumni, just to know that I'm not alone, that it's okay that I don't do my laundry all the time, that, you know, I am late on rent. But it really was a challenge knowing, deciding and I didn't learn until I was 26, that you can't have it all. You can't have a car and have an apartment, have a job and go to school at the same time. One of them has to stop.

So I'm trying to do, for my part, is I've had a radio show for a little bit on the Internet, called "Independent Party." But, so I'm trying to do something to just for that group. But there's nothing really out there as far as I was aware of, of other foster care kids who were making it and what decisions they had. I mean, there wasn't too many role models available. It was pretty much fend for yourself.

CONAN: And Mark Courtney, that sounds like a great idea, that foster kids could help support each other, and are you involved in that, Jeremy?

Mr. LONG: I am. I'm actually a member of the Foster Care Alumni Association of America, which is based around foster care alumni coming together and discussing their successful stories, if not...

CONAN: And how would people like Michelle find other people in her situation?

MICHELLE: Yeah, how can I get involved?

Mr. LONG: Yeah, definitely. Definitely check out the Web site, which I believe is FCAA.org. And then also an organization called Foster Club. It's an online national network for youth that have been in that are in care and that have been in care. And there's people aged 15, all the way until 80, that'll definitely discuss stories with you.

CONAN: And if your pencil wasn't out, Michelle, we'll get that information and post a link to it on our Web site at npr.org.

MICHELLE: I appreciate that. Thank you.

CONAN: And good luck with the radio show, Michelle. There's a future in that.

(Soundbite of laughter)

MICHELLE: Thank you.

CONAN: Bye-bye. Let's see if we can go next to this is Lacey(ph), Lacey with us from Winston-Salem.

LACEY (Caller): Hi, good afternoon.

CONAN: Hi, good afternoon.

LACEY: I aged out of foster care in 1993 at the age of 21, and the thing that made me able to age out at 21 was because I was in school at the time. Actually, I had got kicked out of three semesters, but then I went on to do volunteer work, and I was kind of working and, you know, being independent, and so I was able to remain until I was 21.

But it definitely is a very scary prospect when you get to that point that you know that your time is coming up, and you know, you've got you're counting down the months and the weeks and the days, and then, you know, it's kind like a void on the other side of that birthday.

CONAN: You knew that, in a way, you were alone, but not like that.

LACEY: Right, yeah, absolutely. And one of the guests mentioned that, you know, there's nothing to go back to. And it's really true that, you know, most people, most people who leave home after the age of 18, 19 or 21, if they fall on hard times, they have a family that they can possibly go back to sometimes.

But you dont have that when you're coming out of foster care. You can't go back into foster care. You can't, you know, say okay, well, you know, I need a little help. I can't pay my rent. So I need to move back in with you. You know, so it's really hard.

But I do want to say, one of I think Jeremy said something about, you know, the state has taken custody, and, you know, they need to continue parenting beyond the age of 21. And I realize that doesn't necessarily mean residential. Like, you're not going to care for the people who have aged out by giving them a place to live, necessarily, but just, you know, some means of support and assistance and networking.

But one benefit, I have to say, was that even after leaving foster care, I was able to always get federal aid as a student because I was a ward of the state. So I was able to get decent financial aid just by checking off that box that I was a ward of the state. So I was really that was definitely a benefit.

CONAN: All right, Lacey, thanks very much, and good luck to you, too.

LACEY: Thank you.

CONAN: Bye-bye. This is obviously something that's available to the kids who do go to school. For those who don't, and you're talking about extended care from states, well, I think every state in the union is facing terrible, terrible budget crises at this time. It's not a propitious moment to ask for additional funding.

Dr. COURTNEY: No, it isn't, except there has been a change in federal law, which would allow states, starting this next year, to continue their foster care programs, have the same partnership with the federal government, get 50 to 75 cents on the dollar to operate that program. Very few states are doing that.

I guess the argument I would make in favor of it is that we've heard now from a lot of young and not-so-young people who are in care, who have gone to college. And in many cases, the difference between making it or not, you can have financial aid, but if you don't have a place to live, you're not going to go to school. And so that's kind of part of that parenting role.

But there's another whole group, large group, that are becoming a serious cost to society. They're ending up in jail. They're having children at a young age. They're losing custody of those children. So from a cost-benefit analysis, I think an argument could be made that not only is it the right thing morally to do because we aren't I'm not going to abandon my children at 18. You've heard that from all the callers. But I think it's actually an economically wise thing for government to do.

CONAN: Here's an email from it might be Meliss(ph) or M. Ellis(ph), I'm not so sure: I aged out in 1968. I'm a 60-year-old woman. I was completely on my own, attended college on my own with only loans, work. I made it, but at age 26, when I moved from Northern California, my home state, to Pocatello, Idaho, to take my first job as a teacher, I was basically rejected by the foster parents who I believed were my family.

This devastated me, and for years, I dealt with depression. I became a teacher, later obtained a counseling license. I have a great family and marriage, two grown sons.

I really needed, however, resources like those being given today and therapy from an early age. Thanks for attention to this group of children who are the bottom of the bottom. It has taken me a lifetime to address all the pain I experienced. I take great pride in being able to contribute to the counseling field. And I dont think there are many like me have made it very far. At least I haven't met one on the counseling field.

I wonder, Jeremy, you're now basically in the counseling field.

Mr. LONG: Not so much. I guess - I wouldnt necessarily (unintelligible) but I definitely do a lot of peer to peer work and definitely give them insight to the resources that are available that were also given to me at a young age that have been really the drive behind my success.

CONAN: What do you plan to do when you graduate?

Mr. LONG: I plan to actually come here to D.C. because I got an internship with the Congressional Coalition on Adoption Institute, which is big here in D.C. on promoting policy within the capital.

CONAN: So - but working on foster issues?

Mr. LONG: Yes.

CONAN: So you're going to, in a sense, stay connected with the issues you've been connected with your whole life...

Mr. LONG: Yes.

CONAN: ...or your whole adult life anyway. And it's interesting, the number of people who called who said they were in foster care and are now counselors or social workers or something like that.

Mr. COURTNEY: Yeah. I think a lot of young people end up having social workers and counselor people who helped them and then they want to help. They want to give back.

CONAN: Or do what their surrogate father or mother did.

Mr. COURTNEY: Exactly. That's their role model, positive role model. The other thing I want to say is that the - a lot of the changes in policy in the last 10, 15 years are a function of people like Jeremy and the folks that have been calling in actually getting involved in policymaking. I think the best policy comes from listening to the voices of these young people and young adults, and theyve been enormously effective at affecting federal policy and state policy.

CONAN: Let's talk with Kevin, Kevin calling us from Davison, Michigan.

KEVIN (Caller): Hi, Neal. Thanks for taking my call. I graduated, if you will, out of foster care at the age of 18 and I got a rough go. A lot of things that I didnt learn in the wonderful foster family that brought me in was, you know, how many wolves were waiting for me outside that door.

CONAN: Wolves like what?

KEVIN: Well, my folks were killed when I was 16.

CONAN: Oh, I'm sorry.

KEVIN: And, unfortunately, I inherited some money. It was enough to get me started, but not enough to get me through college or anything. And so I started my own business, thinking that's what I needed to do. And there were a lot wolves that I knew but didnt know that would do what they did. I did some mechanical work on a property. The property owner couldnt pay me so he sold the property and the people he sold the property to refused to pay me because I didnt put a mechanic's lien on it. So you know, things like that you learn real quick who you can and who you can't trust out there.

CONAN: It sounds like people took advantage of you.

KEVIN: Absolutely. And, you know, I've learned - I'm now 44 and I had a wonderful foster family that were gracious enough to take me in - they didn't have to. And it was a rough road, but, you know, through perseverance and learning who you can and can't trust, you know, it helped me out.

CONAN: I wonder, do you have any connection with the foster system today?

KEVIN: I do not, Neal. I was listening to the radio program and kind of feeling guilty about it. I've thought about it. I have raised a son. He's now 21 years old and graduating from the University of Michigan next year. And very proud. And I have the empty nest syndrome bad. So maybe that's something I really need to look into.

CONAN: Well, good luck with that, Kevin, and thanks for the advice.

KEVIN: Thanks, Neal.

CONAN: Bye-bye. Were talking about kids who age out of foster care. You're listening to TALK OF THE NATION from NPR News.

And let me reintroduce our guest, Jeremy Long, who is one of those kids, now about to graduate from Northern - the University of Northern Colorado and about to join us here in Washington, D.C. as a budding policymaker. And also with us, Mark Courtney, research and development director at Partners for Our Children at the University of Washington School of Social Work.

And let's see if we got another caller on the line. Let's go to Mark(ph) and Mark's with us from Minneapolis.

MARK (Caller): Hello.

CONAN: Hi, Mark.

MARK: Hi, hi. I'm calling - I'm not a kid who aged out of foster care but I'm the parent of a kid who aged out of foster care. My son spent 11 years in the system and we actually met him after he'd aged out, and actually formally adopted him when he was in his early 20's, although we had been parenting for a period before that.

CONAN: What's the point of adopting someone in their early 20's?

MARK: Well, I actually now worked with an agency that specializes with teenagers. We just - all we do is work with teens in the adoption system. We represent families in Minneapolis. And the point of it is that everybody does better if they have stable adults who are taking an interest in their lives and moving them forward. And in the case of our son, because of just the amount of disruptions he had experienced - I think he had 27 placements in 11 years.

CONAN: Wow.

MARK: Oh, yeah. Fairly extraordinary. It really was helpful. It's been really helpful to have a family, to have parents who are helping you through school. He's in college now, really doing incredibly well and just thriving, living at home. And you know, I'm not sure that just because you're 20 or 18 that you're ready to not have a family. They still need a family.

CONAN: That's psychological buffer, knowing there's a place to go if you can't go anywhere else.

MARK: That's exactly right. That's exactly right. And I think that when we talk about fixing the system, we so often just focus on, well, what are we going to do about kids who age out, and we forget that the first step should be: can we find families who can be there for these kids who are willing to step up, and whether they're 12 or five or 17, can we really take on that role of parenting?

CONAN: Mark, thank you very much.

MARK: Thank you.

CONAN: It's an interesting situation. And Mark Courtney, that's good advice. But in the little time we have left, if there were a couple of changes that you think would make a difference, what would they be?

Mr. COURTNEY: Well, I think extending care. I mean, I do think that states should take up that option because it gives them a lot of resources to do it. And then, pay more attention to the fact that a one-size-fits-all solution isnt going to work. You got people like Jeremy who've gotten the right kind of help while they were in care, got the mental health services they need and can go to college to succeed. And then you've got a lot of young people who have suffered enormous trauma for a long period of time who are going to need help for a long period of time, substance abuse treatment, mental health treatment. Theyre going to need the kind of adults that Mark was talking about.

CONAN: Mm-hmm.

Mr. COURTNEY: And weve got a lot of parents. Half of the young people Im studying, young women, were parents by the age of 21. So if a state like Illinois is going to continue to help them, its going to be helping them with their parenting. So I think just being a lot more thoughtful about the fact that one size doesnt fit all.

We do have a lot of success stories early on, and then we have some young people who are going to need a lot of help. And I think we need to find the adults to stick with them, and then we have to have the kinds of support, whether its housing, health insurance, educational support, that, you know, that we provide, that I'm going to provide my kids and the parents do these days.

CONAN: Thank you very much for your time today. We appreciate it. Mark Courtney at the University of School - Washington School of Social Work and the lead researcher on a new report from the University of Washington School of Social Work in Chapin Hall at the University of Chicago. And Jeremy Long, continued good luck to you.

Mr. LONG: Thank you.

CONAN: Jeremy Long is from Denver, where he works on the Bridging the Gap youth leadership board, and is about to graduate college.

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