In the last decade, scientists have identified a period of prolonged — and vital — brain development in adolescence. Learn what the experts now know, and what child welfare workers need to know, about applying these findings to youths in foster care.
The profile of older youths and adults in foster care.
The unique needs of adolescents in foster care.
The latest science on adolescent brain development.
The concept of emerging adulthood.
5 research-driven ways to improve foster care services for adolescents.
Findings & Stats
Becoming an Adult
Conventional wisdom — and now science — tells us that young people do not automatically and abruptly turn into full-fledged adults in their late teens.
30 is the New 20
Forget the maturity milestones of 18 and 21. According to experts, the journey toward adulthood is so long and complex that some individuals may not attain a full-fledged adult status or skill set until age 30.
Neuroscientists now have a deeper, clearer understanding of what happens to the brain during adolescence: (1) Girls mature 8 to 9 years earlier than boys; (2) Unused connections in the brain are lost—both in early childhood and adolescence; (3) Levels of dopamine can shift; (4) Trauma can disrupt and slow brain development; (5) The brain is not fixed and can be rewired after trauma.
Experts have identified 9 essential elements to trauma-informed child welfare practice, including maximizing an adolescent’s sense of safety and helping them manage personal and emotional stress.
Experts offer 5 tips to enhance services for youth in foster care. They are: 1. Embrace a positive youth development approach; 2. Provide services that connect young people to families and adults; 3. Engage youth in decision-making and planning; 4. Be trauma-informed; 5. Extend developmentally-appropriate care to age 21.
Painting the Picture
Readers will learn what each recommendation — in action — looks like. For instance, tip no. 3 (engage youth in decision making and planning) involves encouraging youth to take healthy risks, participate in discussions and lead meetings while also forging connections in family-based settings and with responsible adults.
Positive youth development is essential to adolescent development. This approach empowers youth with information, skills and supports so that they can be involved in their own case planning and decisions.
Child development experts now stress interdependence — the ability to connect with and depend on others — as a critical step in moving toward adulthood.
Statements & Quotations
Adolescents must take on distinct developmental tasks in order to move through emerging adulthood and become healthy, connected, and productive adults—and young people in foster care often lack the supports needed to complete these tasks.
Developmentally, adolescence is as critical as the first few years of life.