Macro Perspectives on Youths Aging Out of Foster Care, by Mary E. Collins, NASW Press, ISBN 978-0-87101-488-7, Washington, D.C., 2015, 217 pages, $49.99 paperback, $46.99 ePub.
Mary Collins has written a comprehensive book about the complexities of the child welfare system and highlights an often forgotten and widely marginalized population of which all social workers should be cognizant. Collins explores the historical context of the child welfare system’s roots, which are focused on prevention and family intervention. She discusses the system as being poorly equipped to meet the needs of youth aging out of foster care, as the system is oriented toward child rescue versus developing and implementing comprehensive programs to support youth in multiple facets of their life.
Collins examines the problems and potential solutions to the social construction of youth aging out of the foster care system. Collins identifies issues such as a lack of provisions for youth, problems with intersystem collaboration, difficulty in implementing new programs in bureaucracies, and a lack of accountability as central areas of focus that are ripe for change through advocacy and reform.
Collins also discusses the social construction of aging out on an individual level. She informs readers about the staggering evidence indicating that youth aging out of foster care fare more poorly than their non-foster care counterparts. Collins notes that older youth are less likely to be adopted or secure permanent living arrangements with adults who will provide a life-long commitment. These insecure familial and community connections often leave youth ill-equipped to negotiate young adulthood successfully. Collins further explores employment, education, and housing barriers youth face as they transition to adulthood. She examines these challenges through the lens of race and social class and discusses the disproportional representation of minorities in the foster care system.
The book implores readers to recognize the need for macro level change to assist youth in becoming successful adults. Collins articulates the need for large scale policy reform on multiple fronts. A central theme to support this idea is to actively reorient child welfare staff’s focus from protecting children to helping young people achieve independence. This book also highlights the lack of focus on rigorous and sustained evaluations of programs and policies aimed at supporting this population and urges social workers, and other professionals, to become invested at this level of practice.
On the micro level, Collins asserts that child welfare workers must help youth to re-establish familial relationships prior to aging out, make multiple connections within the community to enable youth access to much needed resources, and to involve youth in empowering opportunities to advocate for their needs, ideas, and desires.
This book is written in an accessible manner and is important to the field of social work. Collins offers concrete ideas to assist students, social workers, and other professionals to advocate for this population. This book is an excellent resource for anyone wanting to learn more about youth aging out of foster care or the child welfare system and is framed in a relatable manner with a focus on social justice, youth empowerment, and political advocacy.
Reviewed by Dana Holcomb, MSW, faculty, Ferris State University.