On Their Own: What Happens to Kids When They Age Out of the Foster Care System

ISBN: 0465077668
ISBN 13: 9780465077663
By: Martha Shirk Gary Stangler Jimmy Carter

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Adoption Foster Care Foster Care Adoption Non Fiction Nonfiction Parenting Social Justice Social Work Sociology To Read

About this book

On Their Own tells the compelling stories of ten young people whose lives are full of promise, but who face economic and social barriers stemming from the disruptions of foster care. This book calls for action to provide youth in foster care the same opportunities on the road to adulthood that most of our youth take for granted--access to higher education, vocational training, medical care, housing, and relationships within their communities. On Their Own is meant to serve as a clarion call not only to policymakers, but to all Americans who care about the future of our young people.

Reader's Thoughts


This book gives its reader a glimpse of the troubles of foster care and child protective services....it is a compilation of several stories, some victorious and some gut wrenching to read.


Props for a book that is 90% the voices and stories of those its seeking to elevate. Of course you could write an academic treatise on youth aging out of foster care with some anecdotes sprinkled in, or you could find a spectrum of youth who have grown up in the system and can speak to that experience. And they make mistakes, and the book doesn't judge them for that.


Let me first say that I am a bleeding-heart liberal. This book about the challenges foster kids face when they turn 18 and are suddenly on their own should have made me weep and rage and want to take action. But instead I felt relieved: there are a surprising number of programs available for kids without families who aren't ready to be entirely on their own by 18. And I wonder what the point of the book was.The first case study details the lives of three brothers, each born a year apart, taken into foster care at the same time, placed in the same foster homes together, and eventually (before they were teens) placed in the same group home. Two of the brothers ran away from the group home and started selling drugs in their early teens. One is now dead and the other is serving a long prison term for armed robbery. The third brother did not run away, followed the rules, and took advantage of every program and grant that his state's foster care system could offer. He graduated from college, got married, got a good job, and owns a home. So...how would offering more programs have better helped these kids (two of whom were in juvie before they could have benefited from the programs anyway)?Each case study is similar. The kids who take advantage of the programs, obey the rules, and are self-motivated turn out okay. Those who lack motivation or who blame all their problems on the crappiness of their early life don't end up as okay. The book tried to get me to believe that these kids' future was in society's hands (which I was fully prepared to believe), but the examples given show that the kids themselves hold the key to their future. And honestly, if a kid, knowing full well that a particular shelter or group home is his or her last hope of avoiding living on a park bench, won't follow simple rules like "No loud music" or "No overnight guests", I don't feel so sorry for them when they end up living in the park.Kudos to all those who have made the world an easier place for a post-foster-care kid to navigate. I imagine there was a time when things were much harder. But if these were the most bleeding-heart examples the author could find, it doesn't appear that any additional work needs to be done.


It is hearbreaking to hear these stories of what it is like to be emancipated from the fostercare system with little or no support or life skills training.

Jennifer Hunsaker

Over the last six months as we have become licensed foster parents, I have been struck more and more with the feeling that, at some point, I want to work with teenagers who are aging out of the system. For one, I like teenagers. For two, I hate the idea that once these kids turn 18 they're on their own and have to rely on the fringes of a fledgling system or the kindness of strangers. Once I started reading this book I realized how urgent that need truly is.The reality of aging out of foster care is told through the eyes of 10 young people. There are a few success stories of resilience and a few heartbreaking tales of utter failure. If ever there was a book to move you to action, this is it.


found on a dollar cart at the strand


I knew the foster care system was a mess,this book appalled me at the (I can't even find the right word)inability of the system to manage even the simplest tasks. I would hope that in my daughter's lifetime, this current system will be treated as a vile part of our past, buried along side of the way that the mentally ill were treated in the 1800s.


I honestly think everyone who has any opinion on foster care, homelessness, mental illness, any of it, needs to read this book. Compelling case studies make it a very quick read on top of understanding our system with all the flaws.

Annie Slaughter

This book was very fascinating and inspiring. All the stories were diverse and different, so most people could relate to at least one of the stories.


Really relevant to my job.


I am certain I read this book in the early 2000s, but I read it again. I am so discouraged about the state of the foster care system and how its children are not prepared for adulthood. This is the book that originally opened my eyes to that. I'm not sure what I should do to help, but I know I want to do something.

Amanda Birdwell

Awesome, honest, wrenching book that steeled my resolve to be a foster mom - while also highlighting the need for reform and compassion for all teenagers (all people!)

Kimberly Harrington

I've had this book for several years but only just started reading it. It tells the story of 10 youth who aged out of the foster care system. It's on-target and touching. It highlights the youths' strengths but most importantly, I think as a teen foster care Social Worker, is the very real limits on money, resources, placements and support systems for these youth.


This book shares the stories of young adults who have aged out if the foster care system. Many of them face a harsh reality of no family, little education, no job, and no support. The last chapter details policy changes and programs that can better help youth in this situation. It's our job as a society to care for these, the most vulnerable among us.

Debbie Frisch

Heartbreaking and important book

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