Improved Outcomes at Age 21 for Youth in Extended Foster Care
The federal Fostering Connections Act of 2008 was largely based on the belief that allowing youth to remain in foster care past their 18th birthday would enhance their outcomes as adults. A prior report from the California Youth Transitions to Adulthood Study (CalYOUTH) reported on associations between time in extended foster care and a range of youth outcomes at age 19. This report builds on prior findings to examine outcomes at age 21 from state administrative data and from the third interview wave of CalYOUTH.
What we did
First, we leveraged data on a sample of more than 40,000 youths from California’s Child Welfare Services/Case Management System. The sample included youth who had been in foster care for at least six months sometime after their 16th birthday. Second, we drew on data collected from our three waves of interviews with a representative sample of California foster youth. This sample included 616 young people who completed the first and third interview waves when they were, on average, 17 and 21 years old, respectively. In both of these approaches, we estimated the impact that each year in care past age 18 had on several outcomes, including education and employment, pregnancy and parenting, economic hardships and homelessness, physical and behavioral health, social support, criminal justice system involvement, and victimization.
What we found
We found that each additional year in extended foster care:
- Significantly increased the probability that youth completed a high school credential by about 8%
- Increased their expected probability of enrolling in college by 10-11%
- Increased the number of quarters that youth were employed between their 18th and 21st birthdays
- Increased the amount of money youth had in bank accounts by about $404
- Increased the odds that youth described a professional as a source of social support
- Significantly decreased the amount of money youth received in need-based public food assistance by more than $700
- Decreased the odds of experiencing an additional economic hardship between the ages of 17 and 21 by about 12%
- Decreased the odds of being homeless or couch-surfing between the ages of 17 and 21 by about 28%
- Decreased the odds that youth became pregnant or impregnated a female between the ages of 17 and 21 by about 28%
- Decreased the odds that youth had been arrested between the ages of 17 and 21 by about 41% and decreased the odds that youth had been convicted of a crime during the same period by about 40%.
Our supplemental analyses found that the impact of extended foster care differed by gender and by race/ethnicity for some outcomes.
What it means
Similar to our earlier report on extended care and youth outcomes at age 19, we did not find evidence of deleterious consequences of remaining in extended foster care. To the contrary, our findings indicate that remaining in care past age 18 helps to meet youths’ basic needs, allows them to further their education and gain additional work experience, to save money, and to reduce the likelihood of becoming a parent at a young age and having contact with the criminal justice system. To date, the accumulation of evidence from CalYOUTH suggests that extended care has a range of positive impacts on youths’ lives. Future research is needed to examine additional outcomes further into young adulthood, take a more nuanced approach to specific outcomes including an investigation of potential mechanisms, and evaluate extended care in other states.