The transition to adulthood can be particularly challenging for young people in foster care (Barth, 1990; Collins, 2001; Cook et al, 1991; Courtney, 2009; Courtney et al, 2011; Festinger, 1983; McMillen et al, 2005; Pecora et al, 2005). Many of these young adults are unable to turn to their parents or other family members for financial and/or emotional support. Nor, in most jurisdictions, can they count on government for continuing support beyond their 18th
birthday. Recently there has been a fundamental shift toward greater government responsibility for supporting foster youths’ transitions to adulthood. The 2008 Fostering Connections to Success and Increasing Adoptions Act (“Fostering Connections Act”) allowed states, starting in 2011, to claim federal reimbursement for the costs of foster care maintenance payments made on behalf of eligible foster youth until they are 21 years old. States have the option to extend care and 22 states have done so to date. The California Fostering Connections to Success Act extends foster care to age 21 for eligible youth. California is arguably the most important early adopter of the new policy; it has the largest foster care population in the US and its approach to extending care is particularly ambitious and inclusive, making it an important case study (Mosley & Courtney, 2012). Many other states will be required to implement, in some form, the kinds of changes in law and regulation being implemented in California. Child welfare agencies, courts, other public institutions, and voluntary sector service providers will need to adapt to providing care and supervision to adults, something with which they may have limited or no experience. However, very little research has sought to describe the needs and experiences of young adults in foster care.
The California Youth Transitions to Adulthood Study (CalYOUTH) is evaluating the implementation and impact of California’s extension of foster care to age 21. The CalYOUTH study design calls for interviews with young people making the transition to adulthood from care at approximately 17, 19, and 21 years of age, periodic surveys of caseworkers supervising extended foster care, and analysis of government administrative records on youths’ maltreatment and care histories, college enrollment and persistence, earnings, receipt of need-based public aid, and crime. Baseline interviews were conducted in 2013 with a stratified (by county size) statewide random sample of youth between 16.75 and 17.75 years old who had been in care for at least six months (n = 727; 95% response rate) and follow-up interviews were conducted in 2015 with 84% of the baseline sample (n=611). Taking advantage of the rich data generated to date by CalYOUTH, this symposium includes presentations on topics relevant to providing extended foster care to young adults: correlates of whether youth remain in foster care into young adulthood; youths’ engagement in education and employment; trends over time in youths’ criminal behavior and justice system involvement; and youth’s romantic relationships and parenting. Our findings have implications for states’ efforts to implement the older youth provisions of the Fostering Connections Act.