Objectives The United States represents a residual and decentralized welfare state in comparison to other countries. States operate considerable autonomy in how they implement federally supported programs, which means that the safety net for young people served in state systems may vary considerably across states. One population that may be poorly served by this policy context is foster youth with disabilities. Little is known about the extent to which child welfare systems coordinate services with other public systems that serve eligible foster youth. This is true in spite of the fact that this group represents one of the most vulnerable populations of young adults (Osgood et al., 2005) and little is known about the transition they make to adult service systems. This study surveyed states to: (1) identify the extent to which state child welfare and adult service systems (e.g. vocational rehabilitation) currently collaborate; (2) explore the benefits and challenges associated with collaboration; and (3) identify promising practices that promote competitive employment and community living among care leavers with disabilities.
Methods The primary method of data collection was an online survey of independent living coordinators in the United States. The survey questions covered 10 domains ranging from Identification of disabilities to child welfare procedures in education, Individual Education Plans (IEP) and Meetings, IEP Transition Planning, and Collaboration across public systems. Questions were developed through online reviews of state service systems and conversations service providers in one state child welfare and adult service system. Survey data was collected from May 2019 to August 2019. A total of 43 valid surveys were completed for an overall response rate of 84 percent.
Results A majority of states (N=35; 87%) reported that foster youth are screened for disabilities during child welfare system involvement. There are 18 states (52%) that reported they could use their state agency data to identify the number of children in their state child welfare system with a disability. All but four states (95%) reported having written procedures for working with schools to facilitate the education of foster youth with disabilities. A majority of states do not require substitute caregivers to attend special education meetings at school (N=30; 75%). All but four states (95%) reported providing independent living services to foster youth with disabilities. Thirty-six states reported collaborating with other public agencies that serve adults with disabilities (92%).
Conclusions This study described the landscape of services provided to foster youth with disabilities. Findings revealed a majority of states screen for disabilities, but fewer states track disabilities in their data systems. While most states have procedures for coordinating with schools, only fifteen states provide specialized training to caseworkers in education coordination and there is wide variation in the supports provided in school settings. Similarly, few states reported coordinating IEP transition plans with the independent living plans, suggesting opportunities may exist for strengthening service coordination and planning prior to adulthood. Study findings point to several areas where further research may help to generate more in-depth information about service coordination and gaps.