Nothing But Bad News in the “Ever in Foster Care” Report

A new federal report has found nothing new: time in foster care is associated with negative circumstances later in life.

The Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) just published findings from a fairly novel approach to assessing the impact of foster care experience as people move from young adulthood into middle age-dom.

A group of researchers within HHS used six years of responses to the National Survey of Family Growth to compare people who were “ever in foster care” to the general response group. They identified 25,966 respondents between age 18 and 44 who had been in care, and looked at a slate of health, education and workforce circumstances.

There is no causal connection made by this study, but the gist not surprising – time in foster care is associated with worse outcomes on key quality of life factors. Following are a few points that jumped out to Youth Services Insider.

Sex and Marriage

Perhaps the most jarring numbers in the report related to early sexual activity. Through the survey data, researchers were able to discern the percentage of people who reported having sexual intercourse before age 15.

Men ever in foster care: 59 percent, compared with 28 percent for all respondents.

Women ever in foster care: 55 percent, compared with 25 percent.

YSI asked Debra Hauser, president of Advocates for Youth, for her thoughts on the findings.

“This report tells us that we really need to ensure young people who are in foster care are affirmed and valued, because a connection to school and family is one of the greatest protective factors for young people’s sexual health,” Hauser said, in an email. “They should receive complete sex education, including information about healthy relationships and how to prevent unintended pregnancy, sexually transmitted infections, and HIV.”

The numbers on marriage were depressing. Former foster youth were significantly more likely to be “formerly married,” and way less likely to be “currently married.”

School and Work

The Midwest Study out of Chapin Hall already highlighted the dismal academic outcomes for foster youth compared with their peers, and this study backs that up. Here is what was found on the metric of attaining a bachelor’s degree:

Men ever in foster care: 5 percent, versus 31 percent overall

Women ever in foster care: 9 percent, versus 36 percent overall

The chasm was not quite as gaping when it came to “working or attending school,” which given the age range is likely mostly a referendum on employment. Seventy-five percent of men with foster care experience said they were working or attending school at the time of the survey, compared with 87 percent of all men; for women, the splits were 64 percent and 78 percent.

Obviously, this indicator only scratches the surface in regard to employment and education. We’d bet that wage and income gaps between the “ever in foster care” and general respondents are significant.

Race

In terms of demographics, the numbers that jump out are Latino men and black women. Just 1.1 percent of Latino men experienced foster care, compared with 2.3 percent of all men; 5 percent of black women were in care, compared to 3 percent of all women.

YSI wonders what the Latino figures will look like if they repeat this study 20 years from now. The Imprint reported in 2013 on the proportional relationship between “Americanization” of Latino parents and involvement with child welfare systems.

Loyola Marymount Professor Cheryl Grills told us at the time: “Being newly arrived, they haven’t yet been infected by the neighborhood. The neighborhood will infect you emotionally, mentally and medically. It is harmful to your health to be a person of color in America.”

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