Study of Youth in California Foster Care at Age 17 Reveals Need for Ongoing Support

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, what factors influence the types of support youth receive during the transition to adulthood in the context of extended foster care; and how living arrangements and other services that result from extending foster care influence the relationship between extending care and 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. Researchers conducted a survey of 727 foster care youth and of 235 California child welfare workers. The study examined whether extending foster care past age 18 influenced youths’ outcomes during the transition to adulthood; what factors influence the type of support youth receive during the transition to adulthood in the context of extended foster care; and how living arrangements and other services that result from extending foster care influence the relationship between extending care and youth outcomes.

What we found

Given the diversity of participants in CalYOUTH, a “one-size-fits-all” approach to extended foster care is not appropriate. In every area of functioning assessed, CalYOUTH participants varied widely. However, on average, these young people are faring poorly in terms of educational experiences, employment history, physical and mental health, and engagement in risky behaviors. There is strong evidence of their need for ongoing support.

There is work that remains to be done when it comes to preparing youth for the transition to adulthood. Youths’ perceptions of their preparedness for independence and their description of the kinds of help they had received suggest that significant gaps exist. Most (but not all) youth see the benefits of the care they have received from the government and wish to be able to rely on government support as they make the transition to adulthood. In spite of their histories of trauma before entering care and frequent instability while in care, the youth participating in the survey remain optimistic about their future and have very high aspirations.

What it means

  • Foster youth preparing for the transition to adulthood need to be better prepared for adulthood, particularly in regard to areas of basic survival, such as housing, employment, and financial literacy.
  • Extended care should provide living arrangements and connections to formal and informal supports that recognize the wide range of youth needs.
  • More research is needed to examine what characteristics and experience are associated with youths’ desire to stay in extended care and to identify youth needs that are not fully appreciated by child welfare workers and administrators.
Recommended Citation
Courtney, M. E., Charles, P., Okpych, N. J., Napolitano, L., & Halsted, K. (2014). Findings from the California Youth Transitions to Adulthood Study (CalYOUTH): Conditions of foster youth at age 17. Chicago, IL: Chapin Hall at the University of Chicago.

 

Findings from CalYOUTH: Conditions of Foster Youth at Age 17 Conditions of Foster Youth at Age 17: Executive Summary