First-of-its-Kind Data Track Troubling Outcomes of Youth Transitioning From Foster Care

Posted November 13, 2018
By the Annie E. Casey Foundation
Young people transitioning from foster care across the country are lagging their peers in completing high school and finding work.

The Annie E. Casey Foun­da­tion today released Fos­ter­ing Youth Tran­si­tions, a data brief that high­lights the most com­pre­hen­sive dataset ever col­lect­ed across all 50 states to assess the out­comes of fos­ter care youth as they tran­si­tion to adult­hood. The brief gives a snap­shot of how young peo­ple are served dur­ing fos­ter care and lead­ing up to this tran­si­tion. Among the find­ings, the data show that young peo­ple tran­si­tion­ing from fos­ter care across the coun­try are lag­ging their peers in com­plet­ing high school and gain­ing employ­ment oppor­tu­ni­ties. We also know that a sig­nif­i­cant per­cent­age are expe­ri­enc­ing homelessness.

Down­load the Data Brief

We’ve wait­ed a long time for this data. They should be seen as a wake-up call to guide pol­i­cy­mak­ers in advanc­ing need­ed pol­i­cy reform,” said Patrick McCarthy, pres­i­dent and CEO of the Annie E. Casey Foun­da­tion. If we want to ensure young peo­ple don’t fall through the cracks after aging out of fos­ter care, then pol­i­cy­mak­ers need to look at these data and embrace poli­cies that will help young peo­ple become suc­cess­ful adults.”

Fos­ter­ing Youth Tran­si­tions has great poten­tial to spur pol­i­cy reforms that can make a real dif­fer­ence for youth and improve the sys­tems that are respon­si­ble for ensur­ing their safe­ty, sta­bil­i­ty and well-being while prepar­ing them for the future.

Mak­ing the Case for Sup­port­ing Youth Tran­si­tion­ing out of Fos­ter Care

For young peo­ple in fos­ter care, the course can be filled with more obsta­cles and detours than the typ­i­cal young per­son faces in the world. In its 17 years of work­ing with child wel­fare lead­ers, pol­i­cy­mak­ers and young peo­ple across the coun­try, the Foundation’s Jim Casey Youth Oppor­tu­ni­ties Ini­tia­tive® has uncov­ered stark data about this pop­u­la­tion. Fos­ter care youth often lack employ­ment oppor­tu­ni­ties and face dis­pro­por­tion­ate lev­els of unem­ploy­ment and home­less­ness, as well as oth­er bar­ri­ers to well-being — chal­lenges that are great­ly exac­er­bat­ed by race. Young peo­ple of col­or are over­rep­re­sent­ed in fos­ter care; they enter the fos­ter care sys­tem at much high­er rates than their white peers and have dis­parate out­comes. In fact, in about half of the states, the rate of being in fos­ter care for young African Amer­i­cans ages 1421 is over three times high­er than the rate of young white peo­ple. African-Amer­i­can youth are more like­ly than their white coun­ter­parts to expe­ri­ence three or more place­ments in fos­ter care.

Addi­tion­al key find­ings that are high­light­ed in Fos­ter­ing Youth Tran­si­tions include:

  • Among old­er teens in fos­ter care nation­wide, more than half age out of fos­ter care with­out being reunit­ed or con­nect­ed to a family.
  • Leav­ing fos­ter care with­out sup­port­ive adult con­nec­tions, access to resources and at only 18 years old puts tran­si­tion­al fos­ter care youth at increased risk for home­less­ness, pover­ty, unem­ploy­ment and oth­er challenges.
  • All youth who reach age 18 in care would ben­e­fit from extend­ed care and sup­port, but only one in four is get­ting it.
  • Less than a quar­ter of youth leav­ing fos­ter care who recieved a fed­er­al­ly fund­ed tran­si­tion ser­vice received ser­vices for employ­ment, edu­ca­tion or housing.

The Casey Foun­da­tion is releas­ing Fos­ter­ing Youth Tran­si­tions on the heels of state and nation­al elec­tions to help pol­i­cy­mak­ers bet­ter under­stand the expe­ri­ences of young peo­ple prepar­ing to tran­si­tion from fos­ter care, so they can begin craft­ing solu­tions to improve their outcomes.

Near­ly two decades ago, Con­gress resolved (through the Fos­ter Care Inde­pen­dence Act of 1999) to track nation­al and state-lev­el data and out­comes around youth who have expe­ri­enced fos­ter care. Nev­er­the­less, the robust­ness and qual­i­ty of the data vary state by state, with many states miss­ing oppor­tu­ni­ties to col­lect full data on tran­si­tion ser­vices and out­comes. As a result, some state report­ing is incom­plete, and this under­re­port­ing inhibits a com­plete pic­ture of state performance.

Fos­ter­ing Youth Tran­si­tions shows the clear need not only for more and bet­ter data gath­er­ing but also for bet­ter poli­cies and prac­tices, to give young peo­ple in fos­ter care the best chances possible.

We now have the data to con­firm that our sys­tems are not deliv­er­ing on the com­mit­ment to ensure these youth are grow­ing up with per­ma­nent fam­i­lies that would best enable them to thrive,” says Leslie Gross, direc­tor of the Jim Casey Youth Oppor­tu­ni­ties Ini­tia­tive. This new evi­dence makes unde­ni­able the need to push poli­cies that sup­port permanence.”

Gross says that pol­i­cy­mak­ers can start by ask­ing tough ques­tions that will help improve a state’s abil­i­ty to col­lect and report child wel­fare data.

Next, the Casey Foun­da­tion calls on these fos­ter care sys­tem lead­ers to seek out young peo­ple in fos­ter care or who are in or have expe­ri­enced fos­ter care to hear direct­ly from them about what has worked for them and what hasn’t.

Final­ly, once areas of reform are iden­ti­fied, the fos­ter care sys­tem must hold itself account­able to work­ing with young peo­ple to take appro­pri­ate action to address them.

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