Va. ranks first in kids aging out of foster care

Posted at 5:25 PM, Nov 14, 2013

RICHMOND,  Va. (WTVR) -- Virginia has the highest rate of children who enter the foster care system only to never find a permanent home, according to state rankings.  It's called "aging out," when a child turns 18 and goes out on their own.

That's about to happen to Mark, who lives at a group home in Richmond.  Since he is in the custody of the state, we can only give his first name.

Mark turns 18 in December and will be on his own, with no permanent family to turn to, if he is not adopted by then.

An aspiring singer and a basketball fan, Mark graduated high school at age 17.  He entered Virginia's foster care system when he was 13 and has lived in seven different homes since then. His confidence is not lacking when asked about the possibility of living on his own; however, not every child in foster care is like Mark.

"When a child is not adopted and simply ages out of foster care the consequences are dire," said Nadine Marsh-Carter, President and CEO of the Children's Home Society of Virginia.  "One in four of them end up in jail within two years of getting out of foster care; one in five end up homeless."

Compared to the national average, Virginia has a low number children who enter the foster care system.  However, those who do likely have trouble getting out of it.

Numbers provided by Virginia Performs, a state run agency, show that 32 percent of foster children age out of Virginia's system, the highest percentage in the country.  On top of that, Virginia ranks second to last in the length of time children spend in the system waiting for adoption.

"We know that foster care is a great short term solution, but the long term solution of a permanent family has got to be the priority for our Commonwealth," Marsh-Carter said.

Families who choose to adopt children in foster care receive benefits from the state; such as monthly payments, tax credits, and health insurance for the child.  Still, more than 1,300 children in foster care remain eligible for adoption.

"Debunking some of the myths about adoption, that you have to be married or be very wealthy or own a home, these are things that keep people from exploring adoption," said Marsh-Carter.  "Public awareness is big piece of the solution."

If he is not adopted by December, Mark will receive some financial assistance from the state to live on his own if he maintains a job and keeps good grades in college.  Still, the uncertainty of not having a permanent family to turn to is present on his mind.

"Every morning knowing that you have a family there that cares about you; that cares about your future.  And what you bring to them and what they bring to you," said Mark when asked about what being adopted would mean for him.