Researchers Find Association between Participation in Extended Foster Care and Reduced Risk of Homelessness

A fundamental tenet of the federal Fostering Connections to Success and Increasing Adoptions Act of 2008 is that allowing foster youth to remain in care past their 18th birthday would improve their outcomes as adults. One of the most significant challenges transition-age foster youth face is homelessness. Foster youth experience disproportionately higher rates of homelessness than the general population of youth. Providing appropriate housing while youth are in care has been a critical component of extended foster care services. A better understanding of youth’s homeless experience and predictors of homelessness after the implementation of extended care can help both policymakers and practitioners better assist older foster youth to secure stable housing and prevent homelessness.

What We Did

This memo examines (1) transition-age foster youths’ experiences of homelessness that occurred between participants’ first and third interviews—about a 4-year period between ages 17 and 21, (2) whether participating in extended foster care decreases the odds of experiencing homelessness among foster youth by age 21, and (3) the associations between homelessness and other characteristics of the youths and their experiences such as demographic characteristics, maltreatment history, etc.

This memo uses data from three rounds of interviews with youth participating in the California Youth Transitions to Adulthood Study (CalYOUTH) and administrative data from the California Department of Social Services’ Child Welfare Services/Case Management System. The findings reported in this memo pertain to 616 youths who completed both the first and third wave of interviews.

What We Found

Overall, about a third of youth had ever been homeless between roughly ages 17 to 21. Among youth who had been homeless, the majority reported that their total number of days of homelessness was less than 3 months within the 4-year period. Furthermore, for the majority of youth who had been homeless, their longest episode of homelessness was between 1 week and 3 months. The results of our regression analyses suggest that males and sexual minority youth in foster care have a greater risk of homelessness than their peers. Also, history of being neglected by their caregivers and history of being placed in congregate care before age 18 has been found to increase the odds of homelessness. Having enough people to turn to for tangible support and staying in care after age 18 buffers youth against the risk of homelessness.

What It Means

These findings contribute to the mounting evidence of a positive association between extended care participation and reduced risk of homelessness. These findings also call for further efforts to assess the utilization and effectiveness of different living arrangements in terms of preventing homelessness. The findings can also help guide child welfare professionals when addressing the housing needs of foster youth, drawing attention to youth who appear to be at increased risks of homelessness including those who identify as a sexual minority, have experienced neglect, and have ever been placed in congregate care. Moreover, professionals should help youth to strengthen relationships with individuals that they can rely on for tangible support as well as inform youth of the supports that remaining in care can provide them when finding secure and stable housing.

Recommended Citation
Feng, H., Harty, J., Okpych, N. J., & Courtney, M. E. (2020). Memo from CalYOUTH: Predictors of homelessness at age 21. Chicago, IL: Chapin Hall at the University of Chicago.


Predictors of Homelessness at Age 21