Leaving the Nest with No Return: Housing Patterns Among Aged Out Foster Youth
Moving out and returning to the parental home is increasingly more common during the transition to adulthood. The parental home serves as a housing safety net for many young people, as they focus on preparing for adult roles and responsibilities. Youth who age out of foster care into adulthood, however, typically do not have a parental home to return to. Aging out of foster care refers to youth not under legal custody of an adult being forced out of care upon reaching age of legal emancipation. Hard pressed to quickly make the adult transition without the support frequently available to non-foster youth, episodes of homelessness are well documented, while little else is known of how emancipated foster youth manage to meet their housing needs. To better understand this phenomenon, an exploratory study was conducted of housing patterns among youth aging out of care in a large state.
Analysis involved a convenience sample of youth (N=665) selected from administrative data collected for a voluntary statewide aftercare program. The program provides housing and comprehensive support services, available for up to 24 months to emancipated foster youth aged 18 to 24. Data are collected at program entrance and exit, and again at 6- and 12-months post program exit.
Sequence analysis (SA) was used to explore youths’ housing patterns from January 2006 through March 2012. SA enables the identification of sequences, or an ordered list of elements (defined here as living arrangement), pertaining to the subject of interest. Housing was coded as seven categories, including but not limited to living: on one’s own, in a housing program, with a relative, or in unstable housing. Each housing sequence was comprised of four elements, one for each point of data collection (program entrance, exit, and 6- and 12-month follow up).
Findings confirm that relying on parents or relatives for housing is likely not an option for youth who emancipate from care. Among the top 25 occurring sequences identified (91 percent of the sample) living with a parent or relative did not occur once. Unstable living arrangements, however, was much more common. About 1 in 5 youth in the sample were in unstable housing before entering the program, defined as being homeless, incarcerated, couch surfing, or other temporary housing. Supportive housing programs may help prevent instability from re-occurring, indicated by lower rates of unstable housing at program exit, and 6- and 12-month post-exit follow up (5%, 9%, and 8%, respectively). The top five most commonly occurring sequences involved “living on one’s own” at program exit and follow-up, describing 43 percent of the sample.
Conclusion and Implications
Few youth in this sample relied on family members for housing during the adult transition, instead making do with unstable living arrangements. Policies promoting the provision of housing and support services to youth as they age out of foster care may help to create a housing safety net for those without, and allow young people to strive beyond survival and meeting basic needs, towards achieving stability and self-sufficiency.