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October 2022Vol. 23, No. 8Reducing Homelessness Among Young People Transitioning From Foster Care

Written by the Capacity Building Center for States

Where does a young person go when they turn 18? For many, the answer is nowhere—they continue living at home with their families until they wish to move out. Unfortunately, for many young people in foster care the answer to this question is also “nowhere,” since an estimated 20 percent of young adults in foster care become homeless the moment they are emancipated at age 18. Nationwide, the data show that an estimated 50 percent of the homeless population spent time in foster care (National Foster Youth Institute, n.d.).

Risk factors for youth homelessness among all young people include lacking a high school diploma; identifying as lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, intersex, asexual, or other identities; and having a low household income (Chapin Hall, 2017). Young people in foster care face additional risk factors for becoming homeless, including a high number of foster care placements, a history of running away from placements, and time spent in congregate care (Ross & Selekman, 2017).

The following activities can inform policy and practice changes to help you partner with young people to plan for their posttransition housing needs.

Build Authentic Relationships With Young People

Agency staff should work to build authentic relationships with the young people they serve so that those young people have a safety net in case they find themselves temporarily without housing or resources or if their other relationships fail to support them. Without authentic relationships, some young people may perceive that the system does not care or is unable to meet their needs, and they may choose not to return to extended foster care, even when given the option to do so.

Having authentic relationships with young people means encouraging them to lead their own transition planning, listening to their needs, and ensuring the resulting plans reflect their preferences for housing and other services. It also means listening to young people even if what they say is difficult to hear (e.g., a description of the ways the system has failed them, critiques of their time in the foster care system) and responding with appropriate actions and follow-up discussions. Such conversations should occur regularly.

The resources in the Capacity Building Center for States' Having the Normalcy Conversation series and Youth Engagement Blueprint series present strategies, information, and tools to help agencies develop authentic relationships with the young people they serve.

Engage in Realistic Transition Planning

When collaborating with young people on their transition plans, agencies should take special care to plan for the “gap”—the period of time between a young person exiting foster care and when they can expect to be approved for housing or other social services.

Using data-based estimates for how long it can take to be approved for housing vouchers and understanding the availability (or lack) of affordable housing in your location is a good place to start. Agencies and young people should begin thinking early on about the resources available to cover young people’s housing needs during the gap and revisit the question frequently as the young person approaches 18.

The Center for States’ Embracing a Youth Welfare System series offers information and tools to help agencies evaluate their level of service provision (including housing) for young people transitioning from care.

Train Staff and Hire Young Adults With Lived Experience

An agency culture that prioritizes the needs and insights of young people and families is vital to improving young people’s experiences in the child welfare system. All agency staff, from leaders on down, should be trained and grounded in a family-serving culture that prioritizes listening to the voices of those with lived experience and expertise and incorporating their insights into policy and practice (Center for States, 2019).

Hiring young adults with lived experience to serve as full-time or part-time staff is an important part of that effort because those with lived experience offer a wealth of knowledge, skills, and expertise that can benefit young people and families.

The Center for States’ Becoming a Family-Focused System series can help agencies assess and improve their agency culture and climate to better partner with young people and families.

Coordinate With Other Youth-Serving Systems and Community Partners

Working with other youth-serving systems and organizations can help agencies form networks of providers to plan for coordinated services after young people transition from care. These include the following:

  • Local, state, or federal housing agencies
  • Higher education institutions
  • Medical assistance providers
  • Individual landlords and local management companies

Coordinating with youth-serving community and tribal organizations can also help develop a network to assist young people once they transition. Start building organizational relationships early and familiarize young people with their procedures and available services so that these are not unfamiliar elements during an already challenging time in their life.

Although youth homelessness is indeed a challenge for young people transitioning from foster care, agencies can partner with young people to proactively plan for their posttransition housing needs and create a stronger support system that young people can access when they need it.


Center for States. (2019). Becoming a family-focused system: Strategies for building a culture to partner with families. U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Administration for Children and Families, Children's Bureau.

Chapin Hall. (2017). Missed opportunities: Youth homelessness in America.

National Foster Youth Institute. (n.d.). Housing and homelessness.

Ross, C, & Selekman, R. (2017). Analysis of data on youth with child welfare involvement at risk of homelessness. U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Administration for Children and Families, Office of Planning, Research and Evaluation.