Foster Care Youth Face Barriers to Well-Being

Foster Care Youth Face Barriers to Well-Being

Young people transitioning out of foster care lag their peers in completing high school and gaining employment — challenges that are exacerbated by race, a data brief from the Jim Casey Youth Opportunities Initiative of the Annie E. Casey Foundation finds.

Based on the most comprehensive foster care data set ever collected, the brief, Fostering Youth Transitions: Using Data to Drive Policy and Practice Decisions (10 pages, PDF), found that young people who experienced foster care reported significantly lower rates of high school completion and employment than all young people in the general population; that 30 percent of 19-to-21-year-olds who had been in foster care reported experiencing homelessness; and that in more than a third of states, fewer than half of African Americans who had transitioned out of foster care had earned their high school diploma or GED by age 21, while nationally fewer than half were employed by age 21. According to the brief, in about half the states, African-American youth were more than three times more likely to be in foster care than their white peers. 

The brief highlights three areas of particular concern: the relationships, resources, and opportunities youth in foster care need to become successful adults. The analysis found that half of teens age 16 and older who left foster care did so without being reunited or connected with a family through adoption or legal guardianship, with higher rates among African-American and Latinx teens; that a third of former foster care youth had been placed in foster care multiple times; and that a third had been in a group home or institutional placement during their most recent stay in foster care. Despite the fact that all states receive federal funds to help young people transition from foster care to adulthood, fewer than a quarter of youth who received federally funded transition services received services for employment, education, or housing.  

The data brief is accompanied by state fact sheets highlighting the demographic data of each state's foster care population, number of episodes and types of foster care placements, youths' reasons for leaving foster care, transition services provided, and educational, employment, housing, and family outcomes at age 21.

"We now have the data to confirm that our systems are not delivering on the commitment to ensure these youth are growing up with permanent families that would best enable them to thrive," said Leslie Gross, director of the Jim Casey Youth Opportunities Initiative. "This new evidence makes undeniable the need to push policies that support permanence."

"We've waited a long time for this data. They should be seen as a wake-up call to guide policy makers in advancing needed policy reform," said Casey Foundation president and CEO Patrick McCarthy. "If we want to ensure young people don't fall through the cracks after aging out of foster care, then policy makers need to look at these data and embrace policies that will help young people become successful adults."