When Should the State Cease Parenting?
Evidence from the Midwest Study
This Issue Brief discusses the potential benefits of allowing foster youth to remain in care past age 18. In particular, data from the Midwest Study suggest that allowing foster youth to remain in care past age 18 increases their likelihood of attending college and their likelihood of receiving independent living services after age 19. It may also increase earnings and delay pregnancy.
The Midwest Evaluation of the Adult Functioning of Former Foster Youth (Midwest Study) is a prospective study following a sample of young people in Iowa, Wisconsin, and Illinois as they make the transition from foster care to early adulthood. It provides a comprehensive picture of how foster youth are faring during this transition since the Foster Care Independence Act of 1999 became law.
The Midwest Study examines the experiences of these young people across a variety of domains, including living arrangements, relationships with family of origin, social support, receipt of independent living services, education, employment, economic well-being, receipt of government benefits, physical and mental health, health and mental health care service utilization, sexual behaviors, pregnancy, marriage and cohabitation, parenting, and criminal justice system involvement. Because many of the questions they were asked had also been used in the National Longitudinal Study of Adolescent Health, it is possible to make comparisons between this sample of young adults who “aged out” of foster care and a nationally representative sample of their peers in the general population. Data from the Midwest Study indicate that young adults who have aged out of the child welfare system are faring poorly as a group compared with their peers. Foster youth in Iowa and Wisconsin are generally discharged from care at age 18, or age 19 at the latest. By contrast, foster youth in Illinois can remain in care until they are 21. Thus, the Midwest Study presents a unique opportunity to compare the outcomes of young people who aged out of care in states with different policies.