Abstract: Who Is Re-Entering Foster Care after Age 18? a Look at Extended Foster Care (Society for Social Work and Research 26th Annual Conference - Social Work Science for Racial, Social, and Political Justice)

478P Who Is Re-Entering Foster Care after Age 18? a Look at Extended Foster Care

Saturday, January 15, 2022
Marquis BR Salon 6, ML 2 (Marriott Marquis Washington, DC)
* noted as presenting author
Ashley N. Palmer, PhD, Assistant Professor, University of Texas at Arlington, TX
Catherine LaBrenz, PhD, Assistant Professor, University of Texas at Arlington, Arlington, TX
Amanda Aykanian, PhD, Assistant Professor, University of Texas at Arlington, TX
Jamole Callahan, Director of Training and Development, National Center for Housing and Child Welfare, College Park
Ruth White, Executive Director, National Center for Housing and Child Welfare, College Park
Background and Purpose: In 2008, federal legislation made it possible for states to extend foster care to youth past age 18. Most states have passed legislation that allows youth to remain in or re-enter care up to age 21 – with some allowing stays up to age 23. Evidence suggests that youth participating in extended foster care have improved education, employment, and saving outcomes, and experience reduced risks of justice involvement, pregnancy, and homelessness (Courtney, Okpych, & Park, 2018). Extended foster care is most often used for youth who choose to remain in care after their 18th birthday. However, a number of youth aged 18 and older re-enter the foster care system each year when independent living situations do not work out. This study describes the characteristics of youth who re-enter foster care after age 18 as a foundation for considering how current policies and programs may be related to these experiences.

Methods: An exploratory quantitative study was conducted using data from the Adoption and Foster Care Analysis System (AFCARS), an annually collected administrative database containing the population of children in care for each fiscal year. The analytic sample for this paper included N=4,661 youth aged 18-21 years who re-entered foster care in the U.S. during 2019. Descriptive statistics were run to observe sociodemographic characteristics, removal cause, and prior child welfare experience. All analyses were run using SPSS version 25.

Results: Overall, 0.7% (n=4,661) of youth in foster care in 2019 re-entered foster care after age 18. Only 7.9% (n=370) had been adopted previously. Most of the sample (65.1%; n=3,038) were removed voluntarily, with the most frequently reported removal cause being parental inability to cope (38.9%; n=1,814). However, 5.9% (n=277) entered the system because of inadequate housing. Nearly half of sample members (44.8%, n=2,091) had a diagnosed disability, and over one-third of those with a disability were diagnosed with an emotional disturbance (37.5%, n=1,752). Among youth with a disability, 6.0% (n=106) entered care because of inadequate housing. Among youth diagnosed with an emotional disturbance, 54.1% (n=948) entered care because of parental inability to cope.

Conclusion and Implications: Although extended foster care traditionally has been conceptualized as an extension of care for youth who remain in the system after they turn 18, findings from this study suggest that a number of youth re-enter care each year after their 18th birthday and they are likely to enter because of parental inability to cope. Future research could compare characteristics of those who remain in care past age 18 versus re-enter care, explore how youth who re-enter have previously exited care and investigate ways to increase pre- and post-permanency support to reduce re-entries into care.


Courtney, M.E., Okpych, N.J., and Park, S. (2018). Report from CalYOUTH: Findings on the relationship between extended foster care and youths’ outcomes at age 21. Chicago, IL: Chapin Hall at the University of Chicago.