Interrupting the Pathway from Foster Care to Homelessness

A high percentage of young people experiencing homelessness have been in foster care. However, not all of these are young people who “aged out.” Rather, some are young people who exited foster care through reunification and adoption. This brief highlights actions that child welfare systems can take to prevent young people who have experienced foster care from becoming homeless, regardless of how they exited. This is the seventh in a series of briefs from Voices of Youth Count.

What We Did

This brief draws upon survey data collected from young people experiencing homelessness in 22 counties throughout the U.S. and in-depth interview data collected from young people experiencing homelessness in five of those counties.

What We Found

  • Many young people who experience homelessness have spent time in foster care.
  • There are multiple pathways from foster care to homelessness.
  • Young people experiencing homelessness who have been in foster care are different from their peers who have not.
  • Many young people perceived their entry into foster care as the beginning of their own experience with homelessness. Their foster care placement was often part of a larger pattern of instability that included homelessness with their family.

What It Means

These findings highlight the importance of involving the child welfare system in efforts to prevent youth homelessness. Child welfare systems should ensure that all young people who have experienced foster care receive the services and supports for which they are eligible. These systems should consider providing services to all young people—not only those who age out but also those who are reunified or adopted—after they exit foster care. These findings also point to ways youth homelessness can be prevented by leveraging existing programs and policies, including the Family First Prevention Services Act.

Nearly everything we know about homelessness among youth who had been in foster care comes from studies of youth who aged out. More research should be done to understand the pathway to homelessness among young people who were reunified or adopted.

Recommended Citation
Dworsky, A., Gitlow, E., Horwitz, B., & Samuels, G. M. (2019). Missed opportunities: Pathways from foster care to youth homelessness in America. Chicago, IL: Chapin Hall at the University of Chicago.
Webinar on foster care brief


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