Foster Youth Initiative

Trust joins national movement to help youth aging out of foster care

Foster Youth photoEach year more than 700 Arizona young adults mark their 18th birthday in foster care without a permanent, stable family. Without support, many of these youth find themselves jobless, without a place to live, transportation or a positive community of support.

A new initiative in Arizona aims to create better outcomes for these young people.

Fostering Advocates Arizona (formerly Arizona Youth Opportunities Initiative) is a project of Children’s Action Alliance and funded by the Nina Mason Pulliam Charitable Trust. It recently joined with the Jim Casey Youth Opportunities Initiative, which is helping foster youth in 18 states transition to adulthood.

“Young adults in foster care are often overlooked as real experts in what works for them. But they are the guiding force for our Initiative in Arizona,” said Meghan Arrigo, manager of the Arizona Youth Opportunities Initiative. The initiative’s focus will include outreach on educational, medical, and financial services and programs available to current and former young adults who experienced foster care.

Youth who grow up in Arizona’s foster care system miss experiencing the essential independent living skills and community connections that youth in traditional families get. “We want these young people to have some of the same support systems that we provide to our own children,” said Belen Gonzalez, a Pulliam Trust program director who has led work on this initiative and helped bring the Jim Casey organization to Arizona. “It is about putting these youth in the best position for success, including making sure they have at least one connection to a helpful, understanding adult in their lives.”

The costs of doing nothing are great. In addition to the personal struggle of youth who age out of the foster care system, there is a tangible financial cost on our communities. According to a recent study by the Jim Casey Youth Opportunities Initiative, these “graduates” of foster care, on average, will then cost taxpayers about $300,000 in future public assistance, incarceration costs, lost taxes and other expenses over that person’s lifetime.

“Youth in foster care need to know that happy futures are possible,” said Luis De La Cruz, 22, a former foster youth now helping to guide the Arizona initiative. “We want to help build a system that will change the landscape for all our little brothers and sisters.”

Foster youth who want to share their story, build a youth network, design training and events, and develop an advocacy agenda, can complete an application online at www.fosteringadvocatesarizona.org or contact Meghan Arrigo at 602-266-0707 ext. 211, or marrigo@azchildren.org