Re-Entering Foster Care As An Adult: Examining Recent Legislation and Population Characteristics
In August 2009, Illinois passed the Foster Youth Successful Transition to Adulthood Act, which allows young people who leave foster care before their 21st birthday to re-enter the child welfare system, and to access services and supports without re-entry. Prior to the passage the Act, a case could be re-opened only if an emancipated youth demonstrated a lack of resources or that one’s legal representative failed to file an extension on behalf of the young person (Dworsky & Havlicek, 2010). In Illinois, as well as in other states that have enacted similar legislation, very little is known about the foster youth who have re-entered care, including the number who have done so. This study provides a brief national overview of reentry legislation and describes the youths who have re-entered out-of-home care in Illinois since the Foster Youth Successful Transition to Adulthood Act came into effect.
Administrative data from the Illinois Department of Children and Family Services (IDCFS) provides information for this study on placements, drawn from the Child and Youth Centered Information System (CYCIS). This integrated database follows youth continuously from entry to exit. The observation period begins on January 1, 2010, the date the law took effect, and ends on September 30, 2012. All youth in the sample entered out-of-home care at 18 years of age or older under the new “emancipated youth” provision. All had experienced an earlier placement in IDCFS before their 18th birthday under a case that had been closed.
Between January 2010 and September 2012, 29 young adults re-entered out-of-home care. Just under half (45 percent) were re-opened when youth were already 20 years old, the last year of eligibility under the act. Upon reentry, the majority (58 percent) were placed in an independent living setting. The time that youths spent in care varied considerably, ranging from 1 to 598 days, with a median of 35 days. Approximately half of all reentry cases (48 percent) originated in Cook County, the state’s most populous jurisdiction.
Policymakers anticipated a considerable number of youths taking advantage of reentry, given the difficult circumstances that research shows that emancipated youths face, and the financial benefits that come with being in care. Given the evidence that most youths in Cook County remain in care up to age 21, they also anticipated that youth in other parts of the state would be more likely to re-enter care. However, this study found that few young people avail themselves of reentry, and almost half of the reentry cases originated in Cook County. Cook County’s surprising high rate of reentry may have to do with the relative rich array of child welfare services available, compared to areas outside of Cook County, as well as the presence of legal advocacy resources.