Johanna Greeson, an assistant professor in the School of Social Policy & Practice at the University of Pennsylvania, is working to reform the child welfare system for children who, between the ages of 18-21, are aging out of foster care.
To showcase the issue, Greeson and Richard J. Gelles, the dean of the School, are co-organizing a National Summit on Youth Aging Out of Foster Care at Penn May 29-30. Greeson says the summit will bring together practitioners, researchers, advocates, lawmakers and students, as well as current and former foster care youth.
“The primary goal is to provide a venue for social service organizations to present their efforts and results,” Greeson said. “In turn, we hope to principally influence Philadelphia child welfare practice with older youth in care.”
These teens are currently left to fend for themselves with few resources, and Greeson said that is unacceptable. Frequently unprepared to function as adults, they tend to struggle with unemployment and housing, and lack access to higher education opportunities, she said.
In addition to the human cost, Greeson said, the issue has the potential to cost taxpayers billions.
“If we do nothing to correct the problem of kids aging out of foster care with underdeveloped social, occupational and independent living skills, there is a projected cost of $8 billion,” Greeson said. “On average, for every young person who ages out, taxpayers and communities pay $300,000 in social costs over that person’s lifetime.”
Greeson first came to the issue as a social worker in Florida and has been advocating and working for solutions ever since.
While earning her doctorate at the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill’s School of Social Work, Greeson developed a theory- and research-based intervention for older foster youth, Caring Adults ‘R’ Everywhere, or CARE.
Working in partnership with the Philadelphia Department of Human Services, Greeson is now bringing the program to Philadelphia where it will be piloted this fall as part of a Children’s Bureau planning grant.
Greeson’s interdisciplinary approach to the challenges facing youth aging out of the foster care system draws on her background in social work, sociology, public health, advanced statistics, economics and community development.
“The heart of the intervention is sowing the seeds of resilience through forming supportive relationships with caring adults, who often really are everywhere in these youths’ lives, just no one has been looking for them,” she said.
Greeson’s hope for organizing the summit at Penn is to provide a national forum for select organizations with a proven track record of promising practices and effective programs to share the best ways to help foster youth make a successful transition into adulthood.