Methods: Using administrative data from a larger cohort of youth born between 1985 and 1994 ever involved in the child welfare system in Allegheny County, Pennsylvania, youth were defined as “aged out” if they were 17 and older when they left care and had spent a year or more in out-of-home placement (n=1,244). Descriptive statistics regarding their characteristics, placement experiences, and other system involvement are presented. In addition, these youth are compared to two other groups – youth who were never in placement and youth who had experienced out-of-home placement but did not age out of the child welfare system – in order to determine how they differ from other child welfare-involved youth.
Results: Among youth who aged out of the child welfare system, African Americans and young women were overrepresented compared to the overall population of Allegheny County child welfare-involved youth. Youth who aged out spent a considerable amount of time in out-of-home placement, experienced substantial placement instability, and were likely to spend time in congregate care. Most of these youth left the system at age 18 and those in group home and residential settings were likely to leave at younger ages than those in family settings. The vast majority of youth who aged out were involved with multiple systems (mental health, juvenile justice, drug and alcohol, criminal justice, hunger and housing, employment and training); 87% had involvement with at least one other system and 54% had involvement in two or more other systems. Compared to youth who were never in out-of-home placement and youth in out-of-home placement who did not age out, youth who aged out were more likely to be involved in these other systems.
Implications and conclusion: The results indicate that youth aging out of the child welfare system in Allegheny County generally have more negative experiences than other groups of child welfare-involved youth. While the fact that many are receiving needed mental health and drug and alcohol treatment and help with hunger, housing, and employment can be seen as an indication that necessary services are available, it raises additional questions about these youths' prior services and level of preparation for the transition to adulthood. It also points to the utility of an integrated approach to helping them meet their needs during this transition, so that so many do not end up involved with the justice system.