The challenges facing youth aging out of child welfare have recently received increased attention. As a result, federal legislation has been enacted to increase the funding available to child welfare agencies to provide independent living and other services and has extended the time period in which these services may be provided. Yet many youth, even given the option to stay involved with services, choose not to. Little research has explored these choices and decision-making processes. Further, while we know that youth aging out of child welfare generally fare worse on many indicators than their counterparts in the general population, little is known about why some youth successfully transition out of the child welfare system and into adulthood while others do not (Courtney & Heuring, 2005).
The papers in this symposium address these related questions of why some youth choose to stay involved with the system beyond the age of 18 while others do not, and why some are more successful in the transition to adulthood than others. Using multiple research methods, they triangulate perspectives and understandings of the experiences of youth aging out of child welfare in Allegheny County, Pennsylvania (which includes Pittsburgh).
Two of the papers present findings from analyses of a rich set of administrative data that includes child welfare, mental health, drug and alcohol, hunger and housing, employment and training, and juvenile and criminal justice system data. The first presents a detailed profile of the population of youth aging out of the child welfare system. The second analyzes relationships between various child welfare system experiences and subsequent outcomes in the lives of these youth. The other two papers present data from in-depth interviews with 45 youth transitioning out of the child welfare system and into adulthood. The first of these offers insight into why some youth choose to stay in care while others choose to leave care, and the second discusses youths' varying understandings of adulthood and how these relate to the challenges they face in their transitions. Together, these four papers offer multiple insights into the experiences of youth aging out of child welfare that provide nuanced understandings of their choices and outcomes and can contribute to the design and delivery of much-needed services and support.