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Aging out: voices from those in the foster care system

Their stories begin with heartbreak. A family unable or unwilling to care for them. Parents dead, addicted to drugs, absent.

About 400,000 children in the U.S. live in foster care, according to federal officials. Entry into the foster care system is meant to keep them safe, but the reality is often fraught with its own dangers and disappointments. Times photojournalist Robert Gauthier interviewed more than a dozen young men and women from the Los Angeles area who were on the verge of being emancipated from foster care or had recently aged-out of “the system.”

Many fight a daily battle to shed the label of “system kid.” Often they are ill-prepared to survive on their own, let alone succeed. They talked to The Times about their past, as well as their dreams for the future. Asked to describe themselves in one word, they answered “survivor,” “driven,” “adaptable.”


  1. May 8, 2014, 6:38 pm

    God bless these young people with everything that they will need to go forth in wellness and wholeness in Jesus name,amen!

    By: ann
  2. May 10, 2014, 12:32 am

    To the foster care system, I survived! Evangelia Biddy St. Jude HS 1986, UPENN 1990

    By: juju
  3. May 12, 2014, 11:24 pm

    Wish I’d had as much courage as these young men and women clearly possess when I aged out. Took decades to process and even know how to share! What NOT to do was easiest, hardest was altering old beliefs and adding positive habits that healthy minded adults typically desire. Then comes letting go of the devil you know and trusting a new “happy” (totally foreign) lifestyle. Aging out, felt as if I was hijacked to a foreign country, didn’t speak the language, and the only familiar faces where of those that put me there. Luckily my dark days of living in foster care ended when at college I met caring strangers that wanted me to succeed, patiently dealt with trust tests and weren’t demeaning or dismissive to learn of my upbringing. It enabled me to trust and reshape survivor skills into positive abilities and sensitivities. Teens with supportive parents and fairly typical lives, seek advice navigating adulthood. For system kids transitioning, the questions and uncertainty are ongoing. Even 35 years after aging out, daily situations remind me how my foster care experience allows/forces atypical thinking and fact checking. Children at-risk or in foster care live in every U.S. town along with the resource needed to help! Help by engaging yourself and/or other caring adults to connect through time, talent, or resources with a child or family in your local community. Taking an hour a week to mentor, advocating to improve practices, or adopting from foster care you have the power to forever change a child’s life and your heart!

    Children are waiting and wanting, please share!

  4. May 31, 2014, 7:56 pm

    This video and these testimonies are absolutely beautiful, visceral reminders of the resilience and strength and power that so many of our kids in foster care possess. Many of these kids were born fighting for their lives and the fact that they are still living and still breathing means they are possess incredible strength. The need is tremendous, the statistics are shocking and much more awareness must be spread about our society's deep, dark need to care for its children. Everyone of us have to start taking more responsibility in supporting these youth.

    By: Rebekah
  5. June 1, 2014, 5:33 am

    Children age out of the system everyday. In the majority of cases, DCS became involved in their birth families many years before. The children start at a very young age going back and forth from birth family to foster care. DCS continues to give the children back to their birth family time and time again.

    Our Child Protective System is failing to protect our children! We need a change. The courts need to begin caring more for the children than their abusers.

    If a child was permanently removed the second time DCS became involved, in most cases the child would still be very young. Therefore it would be much easier to place the child in an adoptive home. If the system did not drop the ball in many cases children would grow up in a permanent loving home, but instead we continue to throw kids from place to place, from abuse to a home and back to abuse. These children are not allowed to feel safe and secure. The spend their childhood feeling angry and alone. The age out of the system with no one to turn to and no where to go. The fault for this great injustice falls completely on the shoulders of our “justice” system!

    Where is the JUSTICE for these children!

    By: Carman
  6. May 28, 2015, 10:24 am

    I have seen the successes and failures of foster care! Just like families of origin, it takes very special people to make a difference in a child's life–good parents, good foster parents, good adoptive parents, good childcare parents–good people who are willing to make a difference! We must continue as a society to help children and youth who are in crisis. Marshall

    By: marhall
  7. July 6, 2015, 3:11 pm

    I used to do foster care. I was retaliated against, by CPS, for reporting child sex trafficking. The system is stacked against those children.


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