Bridging Disciplinary Boundaries (January 11 - 14, 2007)

Friday, January 12, 2007: 2:00 PM-3:45 PM
Marina Room (Hyatt Regency San Francisco)
Findings from a Longitudinal Study of the Adult Functioning of Former Foster Youth
Organizer:Mark E. Courtney, PhD, University of Chicago
Discussant:Mark E. Courtney, PhD, University of Chicago
Rates of Mental Health and Substance Use Diagnoses and Service Use among Youth Exiting the Child Welfare System
Thomas E. Keller, PhD, Amy L. Dworsky, PhD
Pregnancy and Reproductive Health among Foster Youth in Transition
Lucy Mackey Bilaver, Mark E. Courtney, PhD
Educational Attainment of Youth Making the Transition to Adulthood from Foster Care
Judy Havlicek, MSW, Mark E. Courtney, PhD
Crime and Support from the Child Welfare System: Does Remaining in Care Result in Less Chance for Arrest?
Gretchen Ruth Cusick, Mark E. Courtney, PhD
Abstract Text:
The transition to adulthood and self-sufficiency is never easy, but it can be particularly challenging for the approximately 20,000 young people who “age out” of foster care each year. Many of these young adults are unable to turn to their parents or other family members for financial and/or emotional support. Nor can they count on the state for continuing support once they have been discharged from care. Consequently, the transition to young adulthood is a challenge they too often face largely on their own (Barth, 1990; Collins, 2001; Cook et al., 1991; Festinger, 1983).

It was not until 1986, when Congress amended the Social Security Act to include the Title IV-E Independent Living Program, that federal policy acknowledged the needs of these young people. Unfortunately, more than a decade after the program was established what little data were available indicated that many if not most foster youth were still not adequately prepared for the transition to adulthood (U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, 1999). Congress responded to these concerns by passing the Foster Care Independence Act of 1999 (FCIA), replacing the Independent Living Program with the John H. Chafee Foster Care Independence Program, which doubled the maximum amount of money available to states each year to $140 million. While this program has promise, the federal government has yet to issue regulations that would give direction to states in regard to tracking outcomes for former foster youth, leaving the child welfare field still grasping for information on how foster youth in transition are faring (U.S. Government Accounting Office, 2004).

This symposium presents findings from the Midwest Evaluation of the Adult Functioning of Former Foster Youth (“The Midwest Study”), which is following young people in Illinois, Iowa, and Wisconsin as they “age out” of the child welfare system and transition to adulthood. We present findings from baseline interviews conducted when the young people were 17-18 and were all still in out-of-home care (n = 732; 95% response rate) and the first follow-up interviews, when they had all had their 19th birthday and most of them had left care (n = 603; 82% retention rate). The Midwest Study is the only large-scale longitudinal examination of the transition to adulthood for foster youth who came of age after the passage of the FCIA. Thus, it may for some time be the most important source of information on the young-adult outcomes of former foster youth. The symposium includes presentations that provide information on how foster youth fare during the transition to adulthood across four domains (education, mental and behavioral health, pregnancy and reproductive health, and crime). We also compare the experiences of the young people in our study to those of their peers in the National Study of Adolescent Health (Add Health). Lastly, we discuss the results of multivariate models of the predictors of college enrollment and crime for our study participants. Our findings have implications for social work practice and call into question current social policies affecting the transition to adulthood.

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