Many of us have heard the horrifying stories about what young people often endure when they age out of foster care. Homelessness, further abuse, criminal justice involvement, and early pregnancy are common effects of the child welfare system abandoning these traumatized individuals and expecting them to be able to achieve financial independence years earlier than most outside the child welfare system, where the average age of financial independence is 26 years old. So many young people are left having to choose between homelessness and moving back in with their biological families, even if they are abusive.
Thankfully, at the very least, we are starting to have a meaningful dialogue about how to help individuals who age out of the system and encourage permanent placements of teenagers at risk of aging out of care. But what happens to those who grow up in abusive homes and speak out in a desperate attempt at finding safety after reaching the age of legal adulthood? If my experience is at all indicative of common reactions to this particularly wounded population, you end up hearing statements like, “You should have said something before you turned eighteen- then, the police would have had to act.” You end up being turned away from most programs aimed at protecting victims of child abuse, as you’re no longer considered a child, and from most programs aimed at protecting victims of domestic violence, as far too many agencies only consider abuse to be “domestic violence” when the perpetrator is an intimate partner. You fall through the cracks of a broken criminal justice system and a society that has no precedent for helping people like you.
It is simply unacceptable for us to be aware that someone is being abused and turn our backs once that person hits his eighteenth birthday. This arbitrary standard of adulthood, which is in direct contrast with the facts about when young people are, in the best of circumstances, truly independent from their parents, can no longer be used as an excuse to allow these young people to be abused.
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