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June 2005Vol. 6, No. 5Program Reforms Can Improve Foster Youth Outcomes

A recent report from the Northwest Foster Care Alumni Study provides new information about how foster youth fare as adults and how changes in foster care services could improve their lives.

The study examined case records for 659 youth formerly in foster care (alumni) who were served by Casey Family Programs or the Oregon or Washington State child welfare agencies between 1988 and 1998. Researchers also interviewed 479 of these individuals between September 2000 and January 2002. Findings were collected in three areas: mental health, education, and employment and finances.

Key findings include:

  • Compared to the general population, a disproportionate number of alumni had mental health disorders such as depression, social phobia, or post-traumatic stress disorder. However, recovery rates for many disorders were similar to those of the general population.
  • Alumni achieved a high school education at rates similar to the general population; however, they used GED programs at six times the rate of the general population.
  • Alumni experienced higher rates of unemployment than the general population and lacked health insurance at almost twice the rate of the general population.

The authors then conducted statistical simulations to estimate the effect that improving specific foster care services might have on youth outcomes. When foster care experiences (such as placement history and experience, education services and experience, and resources upon leaving care) were optimized, estimated outcomes improved, revealing the potential power of targeted program improvements. Based on these findings, the authors make a number of recommendations for policy and program reform.

The full report, Improving Family Foster Care: Findings from the Northwest Foster Care Alumni Study, can be found on the Casey Family Programs website at (PDF 460 KB).