When Should the State Cease Parenting?
Prior to the Fostering Connections to Success and Increasing Adoptions Act of 2008, youth became ineligible for federally funded foster care when they turned 18 years old. Consequently, most states relinquished their responsibility for youth in foster care at age 18. Data from the Midwest Evaluation of the Adult Functioning of Former Foster Youth (Midwest Study) indicate that giving young people the chance to stay in foster care until age 21 could benefit them in a number of important ways.
What we did
The Midwest Study followed more than 700 young people from Iowa, Wisconsin, and Illinois as they aged out of foster care and transitioned to adulthood. Participants were surveyed at age 17 or 18, 19, 21, 23 or 24, and 26 about a range of experiences including education, employment, housing, justice system involvement, and physical and mental health.
We compared the outcomes of the study participants from Illinois, where young people could remain in foster care until their 21st birthday, to the outcomes of their peers from Iowa and Wisconsin, where few young people were still in foster care beyond age 18.
What we found
We found that allowing youth to remain in foster care beyond age 18 promotes the pursuit of postsecondary education, may lead to higher earnings and delayed pregnancy, and increases the receipt of independent living services.
- By age 21, study participants from Illinois were almost twice as likely to have ever attended college and more than twice as likely to have completed at least one year of college than their peers in Iowa and Wisconsin. Controlling for the characteristics of the study participants only increased these disparities.
- Each additional year that study participants spent in care after their initial interview was associated with an estimated $924 increase in annual earnings.
- Remaining in foster care was associated with a 38% reduction in the risk of becoming pregnant between the initial interview and age 19. Remaining in foster care after age 19 was also associated with a reduction in the risk of pregnancy, but it was smaller and not statistically significant.
- Young people in Illinois were more likely than their peers in Iowa and Wisconsin to report receiving independent living services between ages 19 and 21.
What it means
Our findings suggest that young people benefit when state responsibility for youth in foster care does not end at age 18. They also provide strong support for the extension of eligibility for federally funded foster care to age 21.