Holiday season tough on Iowa foster kids transitioning to adulthood

DES MOINES, Iowa – With the holidays near, foster families in Iowa are encouraged to maintain close connections with older teens no longer receiving foster care. A human service agency says the transition is hard enough for teens aging out of the system, and personal support can go a long way.

In Iowa, when children placed in foster care turn 18, the state considers them an adult – and they’re faced with new responsibilities in managing their lives. Danette Morgan, training and development coordinator for Lutheran Services in Iowa, said there are bridge programs they can turn to – but when Thanksgiving and Christmas roll around, she said, there’s still longing for a family setting.

“There are other services provided for these children,” she said, “but there’s just nothing like having a home to go back to.”

If possible, she said, a foster family should seek care extensions during the transitional phase. Even just welcoming a young person back for the holidays can make them feel supported.

Each year, nearly 25,000 U.S. teens age out of the foster-care system. Research has shown that by their early 20s, nearly half are without a permanent home and are unemployed. Morgan said that shows how important it is to maintain connections and mentorships, even beyond the holiday season. She said these teens might make rash decisions in seeking family-level support.

“I think sometimes they end up going back to their birth families,” she said, “which may not have been a healthy situation.”

She said that could result in unhealthy coping skills as they take on bigger responsibilities in life.

As for bridge programs, there are options such as the Iowa Aftercare Services Network, which connects these young adults with key resources. There also is COVID relief funding for foster alumni. Those direct payments have been extended through next spring.