Does Keeping Youth in Foster Care Beyond Age 18 Help to Prevent Homelessness?
Allowing young people to remain in foster care until their 21st birthday may not prevent but may delay entry into homelessness. Foster youth in Illinois are about one-third as likely to become homeless by age 19 and about three-quarters as likely to become homeless by age 21 as foster youth in Wisconsin and Iowa. However, by age 23 or 24, those differences have nearly disappeared.
What might account for the differences at ages 19 and 21 between the Illinois foster youth and their peers from Iowa and Wisconsin? One important factor is that Illinois allows young people to remain in foster care until their 21st birthday. That has not been an option in Iowa and Wisconsin where young people “age out” when they are 18 years old.
These findings are drawn from the Midwest Evaluation of the Adult Functioning of Former Foster Youth (the Midwest Study), a longitudinal study that has been following young people making the transition from foster care to adulthood in Illinois, Wisconsin, and Iowa. Study participants have been interviewed four times: at ages 17 or 18, 19, 21, and 23 or 24.
When they were interviewed at age 23 or 24, almost 30 percent of the young people in the study reported having been homeless for at least one night since leaving foster care. If young people who had moved from one temporary housing situation to another since leaving foster care are also included, nearly 40 were without a stable place to live at some point in time.