40+ Educational, Community, & Mental Health Resources for Foster Youth

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On any given day in the US, somewhere around 438,000 children are in the foster care system. We've put together this guide for current and former foster youth, outlining the best educational, community, and support resources of this year.

On any given day in the US, somewhere around 438,000 children are in the foster care system according to data from the US Children’s Bureau. Navigating the foster care system is challenging for any young person, and it’s especially difficult for the nearly 25,000 youths who age out of the system annually. 

If you’re currently in care, facing aging out, or navigating the world after the foster care system, you might be wondering if there are mental health, educational, and community resources for foster youth that can help you find stability and work towards your goals.

And, unfortunately, outcomes for youth who are or have been in the foster care system are significantly worse than their non-foster peers. According to the National Foster Youth Institute, only around half of youths in the system complete high school, while a mere three percent graduate from a four-year college compared with one-third of the general population. 

Likewise, foster youth often experience significant mental health struggles, with as many as 30 percent experiencing PTSD compared with 7.6 percent of the general population.

Still, many current and former foster youths and their allies have worked hard to develop programs to build community for foster youth, provide mental health resources for foster youth, and offer education to folks in and aging out of foster care. That’s why we’ve put together this guide for current and former foster youth.

Here’s what you’ll get in this guide:

  • 13 of the best education resources for current and former foster youth
  • 9 scholarships to help you afford secondary education and vocational training
  • 11 empowering community forums, magazines, and support groups to help you connect with other foster youth and alums
  • 7 organizations and programs to help foster youth struggling with their mental health

Education resources for foster youth

Getting a good education is a great way to set yourself on a the path for a successful future. These organizations offer specific programming to help foster youth, folks aging out of care, and alums of the foster care system get an education and learn life skills that can help them succeed in adulthood: 

  • Aging Out Institute. Provides resources to youth and foster care parents and organizations to help smooth the process of aging out of the system. Check out their search form to look for folks doing relevant work near you. They’re also launching a membership program in 2018 that will get you access to webinars, white papers, and reports on the state of aging out.
  • Casey Life Skills Assessment. This test created by the Casey Foundation helps foster youth and kids aging out to get a sense of where they are with their life skills and what areas need improvement. The test can be taken on your own or with the supervision of a mental health counselor, teacher, or social worker. 
  • Congressional Coalition on Adoption Institute. Although this organization’s primary objective is to advocate for foster and adopted youth at the federal level, they also offer Foster Youth Internships in which young adults spend a summer researching, developing, and writing a policy report to be shared at a congressional briefing and with advocacy groups across the US. Click here to apply.
  • Financial Empowerment Toolkit for Youth and Young Adults in Foster Care. This pamphlet was created by the National Resource Center for Youth Development, a branch of the US Children’s Bureau. Although the pamphlet is mostly aimed at providers, they also have youth- and young adult-focused materials on checking your credit score, getting insurance, filing taxes, and protecting yourself from identity theft.
  • Foster Care To Success. This nonprofit provides programming and resources to help foster youth succeed in their education. Some of their programs include academic success coaching, scholarship and grant offerings, care packages for college students, and education training vouchers to help offset the cost of college tuition. Check out their Knowledge Center for more helpful resources, studies, and a list of other organizations for foster youth.
  • Healthy Foster Care America (HFCA). HFCA is a program from the American Academy of Pediatrics. Their online resource center has information including on how to sign up for Medicaid and a state-by-state list of primary care providers. They also have resources like this activity book to help young children understand foster care.
  • Jim Casey Youth Opportunities Initiative. A program by the Annie E. Casey Foundation, this initiative provides opportunities and support for foster youth aging out of care. Their Opportunity Passport is a savings-matching and financial education program that helps foster youth save up for important assets like housing, transportation, and other necessities. They also release regular reports and guidebooks on the foster care and building basic life skills.
  • Know Before You Go. This site is a collaboration between the Alliance for Children’s Rights and the Children’s Law Center and offers detailed information for foster youth who are about to age out of care. There are sections on work, school, housing, legal rights, money, health, and more. They’ve also got an app that provides easy access to their resources, plus they launched a web series where current and former foster youth share their stories and life skills with one another.
  • National Foster Youth Institute (NFYI). NFYI advocates for foster youth and delivers services to empower and educate kids and young adults in the foster care system. Their three main programs are the Leadership Corps which trains foster youth to become community leaders, the Job Shadowing and Internship program which helps members prepare to enter the workforce, and the Shadow Day Program where foster youth follow members of Congress in D.C.
  • Ready to Succeed. This LA-based organization provides continuing support to former foster youth enrolled in colleges in California. Their programming includes career counseling, mentorship, workshops and career days, access to paid internships, and executive coaching on par with programs offered to Fortune 500 execs.
  • Teen Parent. Funded by the Public Counsel, the Alliance for Children’s Rights, and the Children’s Law Center of Los Angeles, Teen Parent provides education and resources for foster youth who are pregnant and the folks who support them. In addition to pregnancy-related advice, they have a bunch of great articles and resources on other issues like employment and housing, LGBTQIA+ issues, health care, and sex and relationships.
  • US Department of Education (DOE). The DOE hosts a web page specifically to highlight government and other educational resources for foster youth. One of their most useful offerings is their free Foster Care Transition Toolkit, a pamphlet that encourages foster youth to pursue college and careers, and provides guidance on basic life skills like budgeting, finding housing, and managing health and financial concerns.
  • Youth.gov. The federal government’s website devoted to youth issues offers a specific section on Transition and Aging Out for foster youth. Their resources tab has many different options and ideas for pursuing further education, careers, and finding stable housing.

Scholarships for current & former foster youth

If you’re looking to for a little extra money to help fund further education or vocational training, these scholarship and grant programs are a great place to look:

  • Casey Family Scholarships. The Casey Family and their Foster Care to Success program provide three different annual scholarships which you can apply for using one application. These include:
    • Foster Care To Success Scholarship. Offers $2,500-$5,000 for college students under 25. Reward is renewable for up to five years.
    • Continuing Education and Job Training Program. A need-based scholarship for Casey Family Program alums from Louisiana, Montana, North Dakota, Oklahoma, Oregon, South Dakota or Wyoming. Reward is renewable for up to six years for undergraduate students and four years for graduate students.
    • Casey Family Services Alumni Scholarship. Provides up to $10,000 over a Casey Family Service alum’s technical school, college, or graduate career. Only alums from Connecticut, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Rhode Island or Vermont and the program is available for students 16-49.
  • Education and Training Vouchers (ETV). ETVs are grants funded by the federal John H. Chafee Independence Act and administered by state and tribal governments. They provide an annual voucher for up to $5,000 for students who are aging out of foster care and pursuing a college education or vocational training which can be renewed annually until the recipient turns 23. Apply on the Foster 2 Success website here.
  • Family Fellowship. A program from Together We Rise, the Family Fellowship is a $90,000 scholarship offered to eight current and former foster youth annually. In addition to financing your college education, the Family Fellowship offers a monthly housing stipend, personal and career mentoring, and emotional support services intended to provide familial support to each fellow.
  • Foster Care Alumni of America (FCAA). Since most scholarship for foster youth and alums target folks who are under 25, FCAA created a fund for folks over 25 who are pursuing further education. They award two scholarships of $2,000 annually to people over 25 who spent at least one year in foster care.
  • Guide to Completing FAFSA for Foster Youth. Although this isn’t exactly a scholarship, this pamphlet gives you instructions for filling out FAFSA, the application that qualifies you for federal grants and loans to use towards your education. If you’ve been in foster care at any time since age 13, you’ll be considered an independent on the FAFSA forms which means you’re likely to get more funding.
  • Horatio Alger Scholarship. A scholarship program for low-income youth and those who have overcome adversity, the Horatio Alger Association awards state, national, targeted, and career and technical training scholarships. Awards range all the way up to $25,000 and are given to a large number of students annually.
  • National Foster Parent Association. Offers five annual scholarships to high school students pursuing further education. Students’ parents or guardians must be members of the NFPA.

Community resources for foster youth

Given that any given day there are close to 500,000 kids in foster care, there’s a major need for connection and community among foster youth and alums of the system. Many folks have created forums, magazines, books, and resources to help foster youth share their stories and connect with one another. Check these out:

  • Beat Within. A magazine dedicated to sharing writing and art from youth in juvenile detention, Beat Within has been around for 22 years. Although their work is specific to youth in detention, not necessarily foster youth, they do work within the community to help youth get out of and stay out of detention. You can subscribe to the magazine on their website.
  • Foster Care Alumni of America. This organization was started by foster care alums in an effort to share foster youth stories, support foster youth in their transitions out of care, and build community among foster care alums. Some of their popular programming includes policy and advocacy work, the Foster Stories radio program, Flux, a book that helps alums navigate aging out of foster care and transitioning to adulthood, and the FCAA scholarship program which provides funds to foster care alum over the age of 25.
  • Foster Club. Foster Club provides a support network and community for youth who are currently in foster care. They host programming for foster youth including conferences, workshops, trainings, and foster club meetups where young adults ages 14-21 can meet and connect with other foster youth. Check out their youth-friendly publications aimed at helping youth of all ages learn about foster care and develop skills for transitioning out of care. You can also ask questions and chat with other foster youth on their discussion board.
  • Foster Focus. This is monthly magazine dedicated to foster care issues was founded by Chris Chmielewski, a former foster youth. Articles are written by and for people from a diverse array of experiences with the system, including foster parents and youth, foster care alums, judges, lawyers, and advocates. You can find the latest issue and archives on their website, as well as information on how to submit your own articles.
  • Foster Youth in Action. A program led by and for foster youth, Foster Youth in Action has chapters across the US. Their work involves creating capacity by building new youth-led organization chapters, equipping and training foster youth for leadership roles, and connecting foster youth with one another to build community. Take a look at their Resources to find a free youth-led webinar, newsletters, reports, and other cool reading materials.
  • LA Youth Magazine. Although they stopped publishing in 2013, this teen-written magazine featured many stories from foster youth. You can check still check out the archives here.
  • National Foster Care Month. Each May, folks celebrate National Foster Care Month with tons of events nationwide meant to increase visibility for foster care issues and encourage folks to adopt foster youth. 
  • Represent Magazine. This quarterly magazine is written by and for youth in care and includes pieces on the foster care system, aging out of these programs, and a number of other topics relevant to young adulthood. If you’re a writer check out their Write for Us article for details on how to submit or apply for their Writing Contest for a chance to earn a $100 prize.
  • To Foster Change. A program from PBS, To Foster Change shares empowering stories from current and former foster youth. They also partner with several organizations across Southern California to provide education, career resources, and mentoring to foster youth and alums.
  • Together We Rise. Together We Rise is a nonprofit organization that connects and supports foster youth through programs like reconnecting siblings and bringing foster youth together through a trip to Disney. They also support events where volunteers make care packages, build bikes and skateboards, and create birthday boxes for kids in care. They also offer free photography services for foster families and are introducing a program to help college students from foster care move into their dorms.
  • We Are Valiant. This unique apparel line donates a portion of its profits to organizations that help foster youth. You can use codes to direct your donation to different projects, such as code: AGINGOUT which will send 15% of your purchase amount to the Aging Out Institute’s Awards program.

Mental health resources for current and former foster youth

The struggles of going through the foster care system can be incredibly traumatic for foster youth and result, perhaps not surprisingly, in worse mental health outcomes for foster youth than their non-fostered peers. 

Although we’ve only provided national resources here, you should check with your local foster care advocacy group, your state and municipality’s government website, and adoption or fostering-related nonprofits for more mental health resources. These are some of the best national resources:

  • A Home Within. A Home Within is a network of volunteer therapists and clinics that provide free psychotherapy services to current and former foster youth. They also have a series of online trainings that can help folks who interact with foster youth learn best practices for navigating trauma and understand how therapy works. You can request free psychotherapy services here.
  • Foster Youth Mental Health Bill of Rights. This document can help you figure out what your rights are and, in fact, what you deserve when it comes to receiving mental health care. In addition to advice on how to speak with your provider, they have sections with topics and questions you can address with social workers, probation officers, nurses, and lawyers.
  • Medicaid Until 26. Under the Affordable Care Act, folks who were in foster care at the time they turned 18 can receive free Medicaid coverage until the age of 26. Medicaid coverage will cover some mental health services as well as prescription medications.
  • National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI). This national grassroots mental health organization works to advocate for folks struggling with mental illness. Their Teen and Young Adult resource center has a ton of useful information for younger people struggling with mental health concerns. You can also text NAMI to 741741 or call 800-950-NAMI to connect to their hotline if you’re in crisis.
  • OK2Talk. This is a program from NAMI that allows teens to send in anonymous posts about struggles with mental health. You can check out their page to find other folks who are working through the same concerns as you.
  • Trevor Project. The Trevor Project works to prevent suicide among and provide counseling for LGBTQIA+ youth. If you’re LGBTQIA+ and are experiencing a crisis or suicidal thoughts, you can call their hotline at 866-488-7386, text “START” to 678678, or chat with them online via the website.
  • Young Minds Advocacy. While most of their work is a nonprofit dedicated to serving the mental health needs of young folks generally, the resources section on YMA’s page is a great place to search for mental health organizations and services. They also have a blog and accept guest posts from youth struggling with mental health concerns.

The foster care system in the US is certainly flawed, and the resources we’ve listed here are far from adequate. Still, we hope you can find something useful in this article to help you pursue further education, work towards more stable mental health, and find community with other folks who are currently or have been through the foster care system. There is still so much more to be done, but know that there are a whole lot of people out there cheering you on and wishing for your success.

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KC Clements
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