Creating Effective Services Depends on Engaging Youth in Care

Over the last few decades, federal and state legislation has been introduced to ensure foster youth’s successful transition into adulthood. Foster youth remain in a vulnerable position in several domains compared to their peers. State and local child welfare agencies and service providers have recognized this problem and redoubled efforts to revamp services and supports to meet the needs of transition-age foster youth and increase cross-system collaboration (Courtney, 2009). A better understanding of the relationships between the service context of extended foster care, youths’ satisfaction with the services they receive, and the outcomes they experience can help policymakers and practitioners better assist youth in extended care.

What we did

This memo examines (1) child welfare workers’ perceptions of the county-level availability of trainings and services for transition-age foster youth, (2) their perceptions of the collaboration between county child welfare departments and other service systems, and (3) whether foster youths’ satisfaction with trainings and services are associated with youths’ outcomes in the areas of education, homelessness, employment, and health.

 This memo uses data from the California Youth Transitions to Adulthood Study (CalYOUTH) surveys of youths when they were ages 17 (Wave 1, conducted in 2013) and 19 (Wave 2, conducted in 2015), data from CalYOUTH surveys of a sample of California child welfare caseworkers in 2015, and administrative data from the California Department of Social Services’ Child Welfare Services/Case Management System. The findings reported in this memo pertain to 423 youths who were in extended care at age 19 and completed both the first and second youth interviews and whose caseworker completed the survey in 2015.

What we found

We found that caseworkers’ satisfaction with their collaboration with secondary education systems is associated with youths’ high school degree and GED completion between ages 17 and 19. Caseworkers’ perception of the availability of more housing options is associated with lower odds of youth experiencing homelessness between ages 17 and 19. Finally, youths’ satisfaction with the availability and provision of trainings and services was associated with high school degree or GED completion by age 19 and lower odds of experiencing symptoms consistent with mental health or substance use disorders at age 19.

What it means

These findings provide support for increased collaboration between the child welfare and secondary education systems and call for increased efforts to improve the availability of affordable housing options for young adults. Additionally, our findings provide further evidence of the need to pay greater attention to foster youths’ satisfaction with the services they are offered.

These findings also suggest that professionals working in all systems serving young adults should view youth in care as invaluable sources of information about the utility of efforts to assist them. Moreover, engaging youth in care in service design and outreach can be initial steps to better capture their preferences and needs and design more effective services.

Recommended citation
Courtney, M. E., Park, S., Harty, J., & Huiling, F. (2019). Relationships between youth and caseworker perceptions of the service context and foster youth outcomes. Chicago, IL: Chapin Hall at the University of Chicago.
Service context and foster youth outcomes