The Adolescent Brain

New Research and its Implications for Young People Transitioning from Foster Care

By Jim Casey Youth Opportunities Initiative

January 1, 2011


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.

Table of Contents

Key Takeaway

The science of adolescent brain development tackles some sobering topics, from talk of lost neurons to the lingering impact of complex trauma. But, it also supports one raw and very real fact: During a foster child’s long road to adulthood, a loving, supportive, lasting relationship with one person — just one person — can work wonders (and not just on the brain, but the heart and soul, too).

Adolescents in foster care often have the deck stacked against them from the start. Research suggests that they have significant behavioral, emotional or developmental needs. They are also more likely to be placed in a group or institutional setting and less likely to be adopted or establish a lasting connection to a person relative to their younger counterparts.

Findings & Stats

The Stages of Human Growth and Development: The Traditional Framework

Source: Arnett, 2007

The Stages of Human Growth and Development: Refining the Stages of Adolescence and Young Adulthood

Source: Arnett, 2007

Maturation of the Adolescent Brain (MRI Images)

Source: Society for Neuroscience, 2011

Brain Development in Boys and Girls.

Source: Lenroot, et al., 2007

Statements & Quotations