When you think about Independence Day, what comes to mind – fireworks, family and grilling on the BBQ? For a small handful of youth, “independence day” has a completely different meaning: it’s the day they turn 18 and age out of foster care.

Across the nation, more than 20,000 children age out of foster care every year. Many of these young adults are left on their own to face the confusing world of adulthood – finding stable housing, securing a job with a living wage or simply learning how to manage a personal budget. As you can imagine, this kind of independence would be overwhelming to face on your own; the safety net that many young adults depend on – their families – just doesn’t exist.

We also know that the long-term outcomes of these young adults are not great. Research shows they are less likely to complete high school, begin college or find a job, and more likely to experience homelessness, incarceration, and substance abuse.

Fortunately, over the last several years, the federal government and Washington State have passed laws to extend foster care for many young adults who age out of foster care across the country each year. Currently in Washington State, youth pursuing their education, addressing barriers to work and those who work 80+ hours per month are eligible for extended foster care through the age of 21. But there are still a handful of foster youth who do not qualify for extended foster care, and with the anticipated social services budget cuts related to the changes brought about by the McCleary lawsuit, we really don’t know when all youth who age out will qualify for the program.  

The day that all foster children in our state – and across the country – are eligible for extended foster care will be a day worth celebrating. So as we celebrate our nation’s independence this week, take a moment to think about the foster children who are anxiously preparing for their very own independence day.