Although states across the country now offer federally funded housing, job training and educational opportunities for foster youth after age 18, a new report reveals that stable housing, supportive family and social connections and access to college “remain beyond reach for too many young people with foster care experience.”
The Fostering Youth Transitions 2023 data brief released today by the Annie E. Casey Foundation examined the experiences of young people between the ages of 14 and 21 in each state. The stats included reasons for entering and exiting foster care, the number and type of placements, and enrollment in extended foster care, along with demographic information.
The report also measured how many accessed programs designed to support a successful transition from foster care to independent adulthood — including life skills classes, employment or vocational training, mentoring and academic support and financial aid for school and housing.
According to the data compiled by the national philanthropic group, across the country fewer than half of eligible youth accessed such services between 2013 and 2021, with just 23% tapping into the support in 2021. And while an increasing number of states offer extended foster care for young adults after age 18, participation remains low.
“It’s clear from the data that states can do more to ensure that young people in foster care have permanent families and receive the services they need to thrive as they transition into adulthood,” said Leslie Gross, director of the Annie E. Casey Foundation’s Family Well-Being Strategy Group.
It is well documented that children who grow up in foster care too often face bleak circumstances in adulthood, including higher rates of homelessness and incarceration, lower academic and employment achievement, increased reliance on public benefits, and disproportionate struggles with mental and physical health.
Data from the new report shows that receiving supportive services during the transitional years from childhood to young adulthood is correlated with a host of improved outcomes.
In California, for example, 57% of youth participated in federally funded transition support between 2013 and 2021, compared with the 47% national average. This higher rate of access to services translates into better outcomes in early adult life.
At age 21, 36% of California foster youth were enrolled in higher education, compared with 24% nationally. They were also more likely to have earned a high school diploma or GED — 87% compared to the 79% national average. California youth were also more likely to have health insurance than their peers in other states, and were slightly less likely to have experienced incarceration or to have had children before age 21.
Similar benefits were found in New York, where 60% of youth accessed transition services. Though young New Yorkers in foster care ranked roughly on par with the national average in terms of employment and education, they fared much better in terms of lowered incarceration and stable housing rates.
But in some cases the positive correlation did not hold true. In Texas, despite 60% of youth accessing transition support, youth experienced worse outcomes in every category included in the study. Texas also has notably low participation in its extended foster care program: Just 5% were still in foster care on their 19th birthday in 2020, while the national average was 29%.
A recent Imprint investigation found that among foster youth in Texas eligible for benefits after age 18, only about one-fourth ended up in extended foster care, due to obstacles to enrollment and a lack of licensed housing — an enrollment rate far lower than in other large states.
The Annie E. Casey’s full data briefing on all 50 states, Washington, D.C. and Puerto Rico can be accessed here.
The Annie E. Casey Foundation provides funding to The Imprint’s parent organization, Fostering Media Connections. They had no involvement with this article, per our editorial independence policy.