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May 2008Vol. 9, No. 4Transitioning From Foster Care to Adulthood: Three Studies

Three new reports from the University of Chicago's Chapin Hall Center for Children focus on the changes that occur for youth who "age out" of foster care without a permanent home or family.

In Midwest Evaluation of the Adult Functioning of Former Foster Youth: Outcomes at Age 21, researchers compared a group of former foster youth with a nationally representative sample of non-foster youth at age 21 to provide a sense of how the foster youth were faring during the transition to adulthood relative to their peers. Comparisons were made across a number of measures, including education, employment, income, level of hardship, receipt of government benefits, access to health care, sexual behavior and pregnancy, and criminal behavior. Compared with their peers, foster youth were less likely to have a high school diploma or to be pursuing higher education, less likely to be earning a living wage, and more likely to have had a child out of wedlock or to have become involved in the criminal justice system. (PDF - 998 KB)

When Should the State Cease Parenting: Evidence From the Midwest Study examined whether foster youth would benefit if an extension of the Federal title IV-E program provided all youth with the option of remaining in foster care until age 21. The paper compared outcomes for foster youth in Iowa and Wisconsin, where almost all foster youth are discharged from foster care at age 18, with youth in Illinois, where youth are permitted to remain in care until age 21. The results suggest that youth who had the option of remaining in care until age 21 were more likely to pursue higher education, which appeared to be associated with higher earnings and delayed pregnancy.

The Midwest Study is a prospective study that was designed, in part, to provide a comprehensive picture of how foster youth are faring in their transition to adulthood. These two reports, by Mark Courtney et al. and by Mark Courtney, Amy Dworsky, and Harold Pollack, respectively, are available online, along with a number of other reports from the Midwest Study.

A Reason, A Season, or a Lifetime: Relational Permanence Among Young Adults With Foster Care Backgrounds explores the social support networks of foster youth and examines how foster care affects the ability of youth to form and sustain supportive relationships into adulthood. The author notes that while the Chafee Foster Care Independence Program financially supports efforts to help youth successfully transition to adulthood in education, employment, and housing, the child welfare field struggles to meet the social and emotional needs of foster youth. In interviews with 29 participants in Opportunity Passport, a program sponsored by the Jim Casey Youth Opportunities Initiative, the youth most frequently expressed the need for emotional support and permanency of relationships.

The study, by Gina Miranda Samuels, is available online: (PDF - 439 KB)