Research That Matters (January 17 - 20, 2008)

Saturday, January 19, 2008: 8:00 AM-9:45 AM
Empire Ballroom (Omni Shoreham)
[CW] Research on the Transition to Adulthood for Foster Youth
Symposium Organizer:Mark E. Courtney, PhD, University of Washington
Predictors of Receipt of Independent Living Services
Alfred Perez, Mark E. Courtney, PhD
Predictors of Young Adult Outcomes for Former Foster Youth: a Person-Oriented Approach
Mark E. Courtney, PhD
Risk for Arrest among Foster Youth in Transition: Do Social Connections Matter?
Gretchen Ruth Cusick, Judy Havlicek, MSW
The Challenges of Extending Care:a Mixed-Method Exploration of the Determinants of Retention in Care of Youths beyond Age 18
Clark M. Peters, JD, MSW, Mark E. Courtney, PhD
Abstract Text:
The transition to adulthood 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 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; Courtney & Hughes-Heuring, 2005; Festinger, 1983).

In 1986, Congress established the Independent Living Program, creating federal policy that acknowledged the needs of these young people. Unfortunately, more than a decade after the program was established it appeared 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, doubling the funds available to states each year to $140 million and increasing the flexibility of the program. While this program has promise, little research is available to shed light on the experiences and service needs of foster youth in transition since its passage (GAO, 2004).

The papers in this symposium present findings from the Midwest Evaluation of the Adult Functioning of Former Foster Youth (“Midwest Study”), which follows young people in Illinois, Iowa, and Wisconsin as they make the transition to adulthood. The Midwest Study is the only large-scale longitudinal examination of the transition to adulthood for foster youth in the context of the FCIA. 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), the first follow-up interviews conducted when they had all had their 19th birthday and most had left care (n = 603; 82% retention), and the third wave of interviews (n = 590; 81% retention) conducted when the young people were 21 and none remained state wards. The first paper examines selected transition outcomes at age 21 for four subgroups of foster youth identified using latent-class analysis based on their characteristics at age 17-18. The second paper describes the youths' receipt of independent living services over time and identifies predictors of service receipt. The third paper, making use of Midwest Study baseline survey data and government data on arrests, examines contributors to the young people's risk of arrest over four years post-baseline. The fourth paper, using a mixed-methods approach that includes Midwest Study survey data, administrative data on youths' care histories, and data collected recently from caseworkers, court personnel, foster care providers and youth, explores why some youth remain in care through age 21 in Illinois, whereas many do not. Our findings have implications for social work practice, child welfare policy, and future research on the transition to adulthood for foster youth.

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