Recent research has shown that foster youths aging out of the foster care system are more likely to experience adverse outcomes during early adulthood, such as homelessness, substance abuse, and incarceration. Since the passage of the Federal Fostering Connections to Success and Increasing Adoptions Act of 2008, many states have provided independent living services (ILS) to foster youth until age 21. To date, most studies on aging out foster youth studied the impacts of demographic, behavioral problems, and placement history on their outcomes such as education and employment. There are still limited studies on the impacts of ILS, which is important to study for its policy implications. To contribute to knowledge on the impacts of ILS, this study used the most recent NYTD data to evaluate the impacts of foster youth’s cumulative ILS experiences at age 17-19 on their adverse outcomes at age 20-21.
We used data from the National Youth in Transition Database (NYTD) and the Adoption and Foster Care Analysis and Reporting System (AFCARS). Using data of the NYTD 2014 Cohort, the analytic sample contained 7,579 foster youths in transition. ILS evaluated in this study included three categories: academic support, employment support, and financial assistance. We extracted service records from the 2014-2016 NYTD service data file, which recorded service provision to youths ages 17 to 19. We also derived three outcome variables, including homelessness, substance abuse, and incarceration from Wave 3 data of the NYTD, which recorded youth outcomes at ages 20 to 21. All three were coded as dichotomous variables with 1 indicating the presence of the outcome. We included a variety of control variables from the AFCARS data: race/ethnicity, sex, disability status, biological children, the number and length of placement, educational attainment, and connection with adults. Wave 1 and 2 data on the three outcomes were also included as covariates. Logistic regression was used for data analysis.
Descriptive statistics indicated that 29%, 11%, and 19% of foster youths in our sample reported experiencing homelessness, substance abuse, and incarceration at age 20-21, respectively. Logistic regression results indicated that receiving financial assistance at ages 17-19 was associated with lower odds of homelessness (B = -.38, O.R. = .69, p < .05) and incarceration (B = -.98, O.R. = .37, p < .05) at ages 20-21. None of the three types of services provided at ages 17-19 was associated with substance abuse service referrals at ages 20-21. Among covariates, protective factors included having a high school degree, being female; risk factors included longer stay in the system, more placement changes, and previous adverse experiences at waves 1-2. Being non-Hispanic Black was a protective factor from substance abuse service referrals but was a risk factor for incarceration.
Conclusions and Implications:
Our findings showed that receiving financial assistance services persistently at age 17-19 can protect foster youths from homelessness and incarceration when they age 20-21. These findings suggest that states need to prioritize providing financial assistance services to aging out foster youths.