Conditions of Youth Preparing to Leave State Care

The Foster Care Independence Act of 1999 gave states more funding and greater flexibility to provide support to youth making the transition from being in foster care to living independently. The Midwest Evaluation of the Adult Functioning of Former Foster Youth (Midwest Study) was designed to understand the general well-being of young people as they aged out of foster care and transitioned to adulthood. This report provides a snapshot of the study participants at age 17 or 18, their experiences while in foster care and the challenges they face to achieving independence.

What we did

The Midwest Study followed over 700 young people from Iowa, Wisconsin, and Illinois as they aged out of foster care and transitioned to adulthood. Participants were surveyed at age 17 or 18, 19, 21, 23 or 24, and 26 about a range of topics including their education, employment, housing, justice system involvement and physical and mental health.

This report presents data from the first wave of interviews, conducted when study participants were 17 or 18 years old and still in foster care.  Separate reports for each of the three states were also produced.

What we found

Young people in the study told us about their opinions and experiences of out-of-home care and independent living services:

  • About three-fifths of the study participants were generally satisfied with their experiences in out-of-home care and over half felt lucky to have been placed in the child welfare system.
  • Between one-third and one-half of the study participants had not received any independent living services in a given domain (e.g., education, employment, financial management).

They also told us how they were faring in a number of areas:

  • Nearly a third of the study participants met the diagnostic criteria for one or more mental or behavioral health disorders
  • About one-third of young women in the study reported that they had been pregnant at least once.
  • Many of the study participants had struggled in school. Almost half had received special education services, over a third had repeated a grade, and two-thirds had been suspended. Nevertheless, most hoped and expect to graduate from college.
  • Two thirds of the young men and nearly half of the young women had been involved in some way with the juvenile or criminal justice system.

To learn about the young people surveyed in each state individually, download the state-specific report at the bottom of this page.

What it means

At age 17 or 18, Midwest Study participants were preparing for the transition to adulthood while also dealing with mental health, pregnancy and parenting, educational difficulties, and other factors detailed in the report. These data help us understand the needs of youth in care as they either exit care or receive extended services. This understanding can help us better craft programs and policies that meet their needs.  

Recommended Citation
Courtney, M., Terao, S., Bost, N. (2004). Midwest Evaluation of the Adult Functioning of Former Foster Youth: Conditions of Youth Preparing to Leave State Care. Chicago: Chapin Hall at the University of Chicago.
Download Report Download Executive Summary Download Illinois Report Download Iowa Report Download Wisconsin Report