Ready By 21
Preparing youth for adulthood is a critical priority of the Department of Human Services (DHS). At the end of fiscal year 2012, there were approximately 4,100 youth over the age of 14 in foster care in Maryland. This represents more than half of the total Maryland caseload. Unfortunately, the majority of these youth will likely remain in care until they age out of the system when they reach 21 years of age. Researchers from across the nation have begun to quantify outcomes for youth transitioning from foster care. This suggests that former foster youth are not as stable as their peers in independently managing their mental and physical health and in finding and maintaining employment, education, and housing. These youth may find themselves in low wage jobs or unemployed, struggling with mental health and substance abuse problems, or spending time in the corrections or homeless systems.
To ensure that youth are provided with the opportunity to achieve these outcomes, the Department must marshal and refocus its own financial and human resources and actively engage stakeholders and partners in both the public and private sectors. As we undertake these efforts, the Department must reach out to other community-based organizations that work with youth, to take advantage of their expertise and link our youth to needed services and supports. Other government agencies, both local and State, will also be critical partners in these efforts. Working together, we will create a system that is attuned to the individual needs of those in care, and effectively prepare them for successful adulthood.
The Department of Human Resources is working collaboratively with stakeholders to secure the following in an effort to ensure that youth are as prepared as possible for independent living by the time they reach age 21 or Ready by 21 (RB21):
Goal: Youth will have a high school diploma/GED, or will be actively enrolled in an academic or occupational skills training program.
Youth in foster care consistently have lower rates of high school graduation, GED attainment, and college enrollment than the general population, and are more likely to “complete high school via a GED and not a regular diploma.”
Goal: Youth will reside in stable living situations.
Youth who age out of foster care are at-risk of becoming homeless. Nationally, up to 50% of former foster youth become homeless within the first 18 months of emancipation.
Goal: Youth will be linked to appropriate services to address physical and behavioral health needs.
Physical health, mental health, and positive development are fundamental to a young person’s ability to maintain stable housing, secure a job, and form healthy relationships.
Goal: Youth will have financial resources, either through employment or entitlements, to allow for self sufficiency; a credit history adequate to ensure youth can turn on utilities in their own names or obtain other services where credit histories are a factor (i.e. housing, employment); and identification documents.
The DHR intends that youth in foster care are afforded the opportunity to participate in activities that are aimed at supporting them in acquiring marketable skills and searching for full-time positions.
Goal: Aged-out youth will have ongoing support.
Youth who have aged out of the foster care system face many challenges as they attempt to secure employment, housing, and services to meet their needs. While youth outside the foster care system can rely on a network of family and friends to help them with rent, provide a free room, pay for college books, and offer advice on key decisions, aged-out foster youth often need to be much more independent. The DHR is committed to reducing the number of youth aging out of care, and to ensuring that ongoing supports are in place when a young adult does age-out of care so that every young adult has a network of supports throughout their transition to adulthood. Such supports could include a youth advocate, mentors, relationships with community service providers, support groups, and other aftercare services.