Society for Social Work and Research

Sixteenth Annual Conference Research That Makes A Difference: Advancing Practice and Shaping Public Policy
11-15 January 2012 I Grand Hyatt Washington I Washington, DC

16793 Coming of Age: Employment Outcomes for Youth Who Age Out of Foster Care Through Their Middle to Late Twenties

Friday, January 13, 2012: 3:00 PM
Constitution C (Grand Hyatt Washington)
* noted as presenting author
Hye-Chung Kum, PhD, MSW, MS, Research Assistant Professor, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, Chapel Hill, NC
Richard P. Barth, PhD, Professor and Dean, University of Maryland at Baltimore, Baltimore, MD
C. Joy Stewart, MSW, Research Instructor, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, Chapel Hill, NC
Chung Kwon Lee, PhD, Researcher, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, Chapel Hill, NC
Purpose: A youth's departure from home marks the beginning of adulthood. Foster care youth who reach this transition to adulthood while still in care are often at a significant disadvantage. In 2009, over 29,000 youths “aged-out” of the foster care system and entered adulthood relatively alone. Studies of former foster youth who age out of care find that these youth generally experience high unemployment, unstable employment patterns, and earn very low incomes in the period between ages 18 and 21.

Methods: With funding from the Office of the Assistant Secretary for Planning and Evaluation (ASPE) researchers at the Urban Institute, the University of North Carolina Chapel Hill, and the University of California Berkeley used administrative data in three states to examine earnings outcomes through their mid-twenties for youth who aged out of foster care. Child welfare, Unemployment Insurance (UI), and TANF administrative data were linked to assess employment outcomes and welfare receipt for youth who age out of foster care. Child welfare data identify youth who age out of foster care, while the UI data provide information on employment and earnings. TANF data reveal later welfare receipt. A comparison group of youth from low-income families is created using TANF data, and baseline national estimates are derived from the National Longitudinal Survey of Youth (NLSY97). Analyses are conducted in three states: NC, CA, MN. Descriptive, multivariate, and trajectory analysis techniques are used. Youth outcomes are assessed from age 16 to the first quarter of age 24. The analysis is extended into their late twenties for NC.

Results : The key focus of the study is whether foster youth catch up or continue to experience less employment and significantly lower earnings than their peers even into their mid-twenties. Key findings seem to suggest that low rates of employment and earnings persist through age 24 and four patterns of connectedness to the workforce emerge in all three states: never connected youth, consistently connected youth, youth who connect later, and youth who initially connect then their probability of employment declines.

Implications : First, many recent initiatives extend services to youth after age 18 for those aging out of care. Findings from this report suggests, however, that risk for these youth extend beyond even age 21. In fact, significant changes in employment trajectories appear to occur for many youth who age out of foster care right around age 21. Second, ages 16 to 18 are of significant employment activity for many youth aging out of foster care. Rapid increases in employment occur for consistently connected youth and initially connected youth between the ages of 16 and 18. Similarly, results show that employment prior to age 18 is associated with positive employment at age 24 in all three states. This evidence suggests that helping youth connect to the workforce prior to adulthood may have benefits later. Finally, as programs to serve former foster youth continue to evolve, policymakers and practitioners might consider strategies for tailoring programs to best meet the needs of youth on different trajectories.