National Foster Care Month: Achieving Better Outcomes for Young People
May is National Foster Care Month, an opportunity to raise awareness about how we can enhance the lives of children and youth in foster care and ensure that, as they exit care, they have the skills and supports they need to positively transition into adulthood and self-sufficiency.
For too many youth, aging out of the foster care system does not lead to high school completion, continued educational opportunities, or stable living arrangements. Instead, studies show that this population of young people are at greater risk of disconnection from school and employment, involvement with the criminal justice system, early parenting, and homelessness.
As child welfare agencies across the country strive to improve outcomes for the approximately 415,000 children and youth in foster care, it is important to examine the intersectionality between youth currently or formerly in foster care and youth experiencing homelessness. Consider:
- While the majority (51%) of the approximately 238,000 children who exited foster care across the country in 2014 were reunified with a parent or primary caretaker, 9%, or approximately 22,000 youth, “aged-out” of the system. That means they did not exit to family or some other form of positive support.
- Results from the National Youth in Transition Database (NYTD) survey, designed to measure the outcomes of youth transitioning out of foster care, indicate that 19% of 19-year-olds reported having been homeless at some point within the past two years, the vast majority (80%) of whom were no longer in foster care.
- A 2014 report, Housing for Youth Aging Out of Foster Care, found that between 11-37% of youth aging out of foster care experienced homelessness, while 25-50% experienced housing instability, including having trouble paying rent, and facing eviction.
- The 2011 Midwest Evaluation of the Adult Functioning of Former Foster Youth Study estimated that approximately 36% of young people who aged out of foster care experienced homelessness for at least one night after exiting the foster care system.
Early Interventions and Prevention
The most effective way to prevent youth from aging out of foster care is to help to keep them out of foster care altogether, including early intervention to support and preserve families. The 2016 theme for National Foster Care Month, Honoring, Uniting, and Celebrating Families, highlights the significant role that families, in all of their diverse configurations, play in the life of a young person. The ACYF demonstration grants, Partnerships to Demonstrate the Effectiveness of Supportive Housing for Families in the Child Welfare System, are being implemented in five communities and are informing our understanding of how the child welfare system can better support families with high service needs, including lack of housing, to prevent entry into foster care, or assist with reunification.
A Coordinated Community Response
Our ability to support youth during and after their exit from care is a critical component of a coordinated strategy to prevent and end youth homelessness. Too often, the child welfare system and the homelessness assistance system are disconnected. As a result, many youth find themselves having to navigate a complicated set of programs in order to receive needed assistance, including housing supports, after leaving foster care.
USICH and its member agencies are seeking to better align public systems, like the child welfare system, with the homelessness assistance system, through increased coordination and collaboration, and to ensure that service delivery is trauma-informed, culturally appropriate, and age and developmentally appropriate.
A consistent and well-coordinated entry and assessment system for youth has the potential to more effectively and efficiently streamline access to housing assistance and supportive services, increasing protective factors and improving outcomes for young people.
We All Have a Role to Play
For any youth, the transition to adulthood can be overwhelming and difficult to navigate, but for those youth who are leaving the foster care system in the absence of family or other supports, it’s an even more daunting challenge. It is on all of us — federal, state and local entities, public and private partners — to ensure our most vulnerable children and youth safely transition from foster care to a more permanent setting. One that is safe, supportive, and includes connections to education, employment, and access to resources to achieve and maintain a stable living situation.
Projects like the Youth At-Risk of Homelessness implementation grants and the Family Unification Program (FUP) and Family Self Sufficiency (FSS) Demonstration, are designed to test interventions with youth in and formerly in foster care, building capacity at the local and state levels to provide youth with the resources needed to increase the likelihood of positive outcomes across the domains of stable housing, permanent connections, education and employment, and overall well-being. Lessons learned from these and other efforts will continue to inform how USICH and its partners are advancing strategies under Opening Doors to prevent and end homelessness among youth in 2020.
To the countless child welfare agency staff, foster care and service providers, advocates, and other partners, thank you for all you do each and every day to care for some of our most vulnerable children and youth.
To learn more about activities during National Foster Care Month, visit https://www.childwelfare.gov/fostercaremonth/.