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September 2019Vol. 20, No. 7Report Assesses Experiences of Older Youth in Foster Care, Agencies' Ability to Meet Their Needs

A report from the Children's Bureau looks at federal data to determine how well child welfare agencies are meeting the needs of older youth in foster care as well as explore the experiences and perceptions of this age group.

The report examines the Child and Family Service Review (CFSR) findings specific to youth 16–17 years old for the 38 states reviewed during the first 3 years of round 3 of the federal CFSRs (2015–2017). CFSRs evaluate agency performance in ensuring child and youth safety, permanency, and well-being by interviewing key stakeholders in each of the states involved. The strength ratings for the areas assessed in the CFSRs were substandard in all but one of the categories—placement with siblings—and demonstrate a need to improve practice to better serve older youth.

The findings reveal that these older youth had been in foster care for 39 months on average and that the most common reason for entering care was primary caregiver neglect, followed by issues related to child and youth behavior. The most common permanency goal was other planned permanent living arrangement (OPPLA), a living situation where the agency oversees care and custody and in which the youth is expected to remain until adulthood. The report finds that agencies took steps to ensure such placements were permanent (e.g., by asking caregivers to sign a long-term care commitment). While the report notes that 58 percent of the older youth had OPPLA as their permanency goal, it emphasizes that this should only be the goal when options such as reunification, adoption, or legal guardianship have been ruled out. Reunification was the second most common permanency goal for older youth.

The youth who were interviewed through the CFSR process reported mixed experiences in their understanding of, and involvement in, permanency planning. They also indicated there was no discussion regarding the potential consequences of aging out of care without a permanent connection or family support. Youth reported that, while they felt valued when included in the decision-making process, agency voices often overshadowed their own, and some felt unimportant to their caseworkers. Some youth reported they did not always understand their case plans and were often unable to reach their caseworkers. Some felt as though their voices were heard more in a court setting or by a judge. Others reported they felt more listened to as they got older. Youth emphasized the pivotal role of a caseworker's availability and positive attitude in helping them move forward. They cited placement instability, separation from siblings, and miscommunication and misunderstandings surrounding permanency as significant challenges as adulthood approaches.

The report authors conclude that the results highlight the need for agencies and caseworkers to work with youth to make sure they understand their permanency options and the importance of preparing youth for life after foster care. The report encourages caseworkers to involve youth in the case-planning process and points out that this will help youth be more motivated to achieve their goals.

Focus on Youth CFSR Findings: 2015–2017 is available at (8,700 KB).

Related Item

For information on the value of maintaining sibling relationships and the relevant research, strategies, and resources to assist child welfare professionals in preserving connections among siblings, read the bulletin Sibling Issues in Foster Care and Adoption, available at