Findings From the Midwest Evaluation of the Adult Functioning of Former Foster Youth
It was not until 1986, when Congress amended the Social Security Act to include the Title IV-E Independent Living Program, that federal policy acknowledged the needs of these young people. Title IV-E has been amended several times since then in efforts to improve support for foster youth making the transition to adulthood. Most recently, in 2008 the Fostering Connections to Success and Increasing Adoptions Act (“Fostering Connections Act”) created a state option to extend foster care past 18 to age 21. In order for youth to be eligible to remain in care they must participate in education, employment, or employment-related activities or be deemed to have a medical condition that keeps them from doing so. Whether and how states will take up the option to extend care are important policy and practice questions.
This symposium presents findings from the ongoing Midwest Evaluation of the Adult Functioning of Former Foster Youth (“Midwest Study”) (Courtney et al, 2004; 2007; 2009; 2010; 2011), which is following young people in Illinois, Iowa, and Wisconsin as they age out of the child welfare system and transition to adulthood. Baseline interviews were conducted when the young people were 17-18 and were still in out-of-home care (n = 732; 95% response rate) and follow-up interviews have been conducted at 19, 21, 23-24, and 26 with over 80% of the baseline sample being retained at each follow-up. The Midwest Study provides timely evidence regarding the transition to adulthood for foster youth and allows for examination of the potential implications of extending care past 18, since the states involved have widely varying policies regarding when youth must exit care. Thus, the Midwest Study is a vital source of information to help inform implementation of the Fostering Connections Act. Taking advantage of the rich data generated by the Midwest Study, this symposium includes presentations on the following aspects of the transition to adulthood for foster youth: prevalence and predictors of intimate partner violence; effects of juvenile justice system involvement on employment and educational attainment; the relationship between family ties, social support, and economic assets; and, risk and protective factors influencing post-secondary education attainment, including reasons that youth have dropped out of college. Our findings have implications for social work practice and call into question the adequacy of the Fostering Connections Act as a policy framework for foster youth in transition.