Foster Youth Resilient But Struggling at Age 19

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. Further, we looked at what factors influence the types of support youth receive during the transition to adulthood in the context of extended foster care, and how services that result from extending foster care influence 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 2 of the CalYOUTH study, researchers surveyed 611 19-year-old youth. The design of the study was informed by feedback from multiple stakeholders, including California state and county child welfare administrators and supervisors, youth currently in foster care, and representatives of funding partners.

What we found

As in the Wave 1 report, researchers found that the diversity of the California foster youth population makes a one-size-fits-all approach inappropriate. Extended care must be sensitive to the culture and community of these youth. In addition, CalYOUTH participants’ functioning varied widely in the areas assessed. However, on average, these youth are faring poorly in educational experiences, employment history, physical and mental health, and involvement in the criminal justice system. The young adults in foster care are also particularly resilient; they remain optimistic and have very high aspirations.

The vast majority of youth who remain in extended care are satisfied with the help they are receiving through extended care, and associate remaining in care with positive outcomes. Over three-quarters of the youth interviewed at ages 16-17 were still in care at age 19, despite the fact that they were free to leave care after reaching the age of majority. The vast majority of youth see extended care as supporting them in their life goals.

What it means

This Wave 2 survey identifies potential opportunities to improve California’s approach to extended foster care, and to foster care more generally. A sizable minority expressed dissatisfaction with the services they received and their interactions with professionals associated with the system. Youth are most concerned about their preparedness for independence with regard to finding housing and being able to manage their finances. The prevalence of maltreatment while they were minors in care is troubling, as are their reports of being denied developmentally appropriate experiences during adolescence as a result of being in care.

Recommended Citation
Courtney, M. E., Okpych, N. J., Charles, P., Mikell, D., Stevenson, B., Park, K., Kindle, B., Harty, J., & Feng, H. (2016). Findings from the California Youth Transitions to Adulthood Study (CalYOUTH): Conditions of foster youth at age 19. Chicago, IL: Chapin Hall at the University of Chicago.
Download Report