Designing Education Programs to Meet the Needs of Young Adults in Care

The Administration for Children and Families contracted with the Urban Institute and Chapin Hall to plan for the next generation of evaluation activities funded by the Chafee Foster Care Independence Program. This brief describes what we know about the educational attainment of youth in foster care and examines the landscape of programs aimed at improving their educational outcomes, including what we know about their effectiveness.

What we did

We reviewed the literature on the educational attainment of youth in foster care and on programs aimed at improving their educational outcomes. We also convened a group of researchers, program directors, and federal staff with expertise in foster care or education programs to discuss what we learned about education-focused programs for youth in foster care.

What we found

Youth in care face a host of educational challenges:

  • They are more likely than their peers to be older for grade level, attend low performing school, and lag behind their peers academically.
  • They are less likely than their peers to graduate from high school and enroll in college and earn a degree.

Programs designed to help transition-age youth overcome these challenges tend to focus on one of three outcomes: high school completion, college access, and college success.

To date, there has been little progress in developing an evidence base for education-focused programs that target youth in foster care. Few education-focused programs that target youth in foster care have been rigorously evaluated. The best available evidence about the effectiveness of education-focused programs comes from evaluations of programs implemented with other at-risk populations, but the results of those evaluations may not generalize to youth in foster care given their unique needs and circumstances.

What it means

Two of the eligibility requirements for extended foster care involve education. If young people are to stay in extended foster care, states need to provide services and supports that improve their educational outcomes. To make effective investments toward that goal, states will need a robust evidence base for education-focused programs.

Recommended Citation
Dworsky, A., Smithgall, C., & Courtney, M. E. (2014). Supporting youth transitioning out of foster care, issue brief 1: Education programs. OPRE Report # 2014-66. Washington, DC: Office of Planning, Research and Evaluation, Administration for Children and Families, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.
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