When Life Unexpected debuted on The CW in mid-January, network TV had its first drama about an American teenager trapped in foster care.  Desperate to leave a life of bouncing from one set of foster parents to another, 15-year-old Lux, played by rising young star Brittany Robertson (Cara Burns in Dan In Real Life, Samantha in Swingtown, and Trixie Stone in The Tenth Circle), reunites with her birth parents.

Too bad things aren’t always that easy for many foster kids.

There are approximately 500,000 young Americans in foster care around the country, according to the most recent federal AFCARS data.  Throughout the United States, youth in the foster care system between the ages of 15 and18 are more likely to end up in group homes or institutional settings than in a foster home placement.  The most important benefit of a placement with a foster family is the relationship with a responsible adult(s) who will provide the necessary guidance youth need as they transition into adulthood.  Most, like Lux, are returned to their birth families or go to live with other family members or are adopted.  But, unlike Lux, the 14 percent who age out or otherwise drop out of foster care may find that the biggest challenge in leaving the system is survival.

Studies find that approximately 47 percent of youth who have aged out of the foster care system will do so without having received a high school diploma or GED (“Youth Aging Out of Foster Care.” Network on Transitions to Adulthood Policy Brief. April 2005, Issue 19). Those youth who do manage to graduate from high school are more likely to have done so reading at or below the grade level needed to continue onto and successfully complete college or vocational training.  The consequences of entering adult life without the proper tools and skills are staggering.  Two to four years after aging out of the foster care system, 25 percent of youth will have experienced homelessness (National Alliance to End Homelessness: Youth Homelessness Fact Sheet. National Alliance to End Homelessness. 2006). The need for intervention and support is not only important to these youth but for the public as well.  In the United States it is estimated that the economic benefit to the public in helping these young people successfully complete secondary education averages $127,000 per student a year in the form of reduced spending for local hospital systems, the criminal justice system and welfare programs (The Costs and Benefits of an Excellent Education for All of America’s Children. Teachers College, Columbia University. January 2007).

“We simply cannot ignore the terrible costs of allowing kids to age out of foster care without a safety net,” said Debbie Robinson, President of The Association of Junior Leagues International, Inc., which represents 292 individual Junior Leagues in four countries. “Statistics have shown the toll it takes on these young adults is physical, emotional, and social, and that it costs the community as well. After investing so much time and money in their care while they’re in the system, it is imperative that we also invest in their futures after they graduate.”

Foster care has been a key focus area for The Junior League for more than 20 years, with highly effective programs in place across the country, including: