Wave 3 of CalYOUTH Study Surveys Former Foster Youth at Age 21

This study provides the most comprehensive view to date of young people approaching the transition to adulthood from foster care in the wake of the federal Fostering Connections Act. This Act extended the age of Title IV-E eligibility from 18 to 21 for foster care youth. This study focuses on the state of California, an early adopter of the new policy that also has the largest foster care population in the U.S. The study addresses whether extending foster care past age 18 influenced youths’ outcomes during the transition to adulthood;, what factors influence the types of support youth receive during the transition to adulthood in the context of extended foster care; and how living arrangements and other services that result from extending foster care influence the relationship between extending care and youth outcomes.

What We Did

This study evaluated the impact of the California Fostering Connections to Success Act on outcomes during the transition to adulthood for foster youth. CalYOUTH includes collection and analysis of information from three sources: (1) transition-age youth, (2) child welfare workers, and (3) government program data. For Wave 3 of the CalYOUTH study, researchers surveyed 616 21-year-old youth. This study follows up on surveys of the same young people when they were approaching the age of majority in California’s foster care system at age 17 and again when they were 19 years old. Similar to Waves 1 and 2, the study collected data on a wide range of youth outcomes in in areas such as physical and mental health, education and employment, and relationships and families.

What We Found

In Wave 3, researchers found that the diversity of the California foster youth population makes a one-size-fits-all approach inappropriate. At age 21, we find that young people are faring poorly compared to their age peers across many measures of well-being, including their educational attainment, employment, economic self-sufficiency, physical and mental health, and involvement with the criminal justice system. Notably, we find that gender, race, and ethnicity condition these youths’ experiences.

What It Means

This study suggests that most of the young adults chose to take advantage of their opportunity to remain in extended foster care. The study identifies potential opportunities to improve California’s approach to extended foster care, and foster care more generally, to meet the needs of youth aging out of foster care. This is particularly important since most youth in care were generally satisfied with the services they received and their interactions with professionals associated with the system, while a sizeable portion expressed dissatisfaction.

Recommended Citation
Courtney, M. E., Okpych, N. J., Park, K., Harty, J., Feng, H., Torres-Garcia, A., & Sayed, S. (2018). Findings from the California Youth Transitions to Adulthood Study (CalYOUTH): Conditions of youth at age 21. Chicago, IL: Chapin Hall at the University of Chicago.