A recently released study shows that California foster youth who remain in care after they turn 18 are better educated, more likely to be employed and wealthier than their peers who exit the system at 18.
The study, conducted by Chaplin Hill at the University of Chicago, used data from the California Youth Transitions to Adulthood Study (CalYOUTH) to track more than 40,000 foster youth in California’s Child Welfare Services/Case Management System over five years.
According to the report, youth who remained in care increased the amount of money they had in their bank accounts by $404, decreased their odds of being homeless by 28 percent and reduced their chances of being arrested by 41 percent.
While the report showed promise, University of Chicago Professor Mark Courtney hesitated to attribute the results to any one single factor, such as the extenuation of care to age 21.
“We shouldn’t declare victory and go home,” Courtney told The Chronicle of Social Change. “Legislators and advocates sometimes think that changing policy, particularly through legislation, is going to solve a problem.”
Still – the results were encouraging.
Other beneficial findings the study discovered for youth that remained in care include:
- Increased the probability that youth completed a high school credential by about 8 percent.
- Increased their expected probability of enrolling in college by 10–11 percent.
- Increased the number of quarters that youth were employed between their 18th and 21st
- Decreased the amount of money received in need-based public food assistance by more than $700.
- Decreased the odds of experiencing additional economic hardship (e.g., not being able to pay utility bills) experienced between the ages of 17 and 21 by about 12 percent.
- Increased the odds that youth described a professional (e.g., caseworker, therapist, counselor, etc.) as a source of social support by about 42 percent. Also increased the odds that youth felt they had enough people to turn to for emotional support, tangible support, and advice/guidance.
- Decreased the odds that youth became pregnant (females) or impregnated a female (males) between the ages of 17 and 21 by about 28 percent.
Source: Report from CalYOUTH: Findings on the Relationship between Extended Foster Care and Youth’s Outcomes at Age 21 by Chaplin Hall at the University of Chicago.
The results of the study aren’t entirely surprising. Three extra years of financial and educational stability that includes housing and medical care can allow youth in care an opportunity to transition to adulthood with greater ease than cutting them off from these necessary resources at 18.
This wasn’t always an option.
It wasn’t until the Foster Connections to Success and Increasing Adoptions Act of 2008 (FCA) that states were given the chance of receiving federal funding for foster children’s benefits up to the age of 21, instead of 18.
Since the FCA’s passage more than a decade ago, 26 states have allowed youth to choose to stay in foster care via federal funding, and therefore continue to receive financial and medical resources until their 21st birthday. Most other states offer some form of extended care like New Jersey, which offers state-initiated extended care.
Only Oklahoma and Rhode Island offer no extended care whatsoever.
Although the national report indicates that it’s beneficial financially and educationally for youth to stay in care past the age of 18 if their state permits, it does not guarantee future success.
In New Jersey, a recently released report from a national expert evaluating the Department of Children and Families found that “too many young adults who ‘aged out’ (between the ages of 18-21 in) New Jersey’s foster care system in the first half of 2018 had not yet enrolled in school, landed a job or found a reliable place to live,” according to an NJ.com article.
However, New Jersey’s Department of Children and Families Commissioner Christine Norbut Beyer told NJ.com that fewer youth are aging out of foster care because of an increase in adoptions and reunification of families before they turn 21.
Stats provided by the Annie E. Casey Foundation that found 310 youth were in care on their 18th birthday in New Jersey in 2018. That number drops to just 11 youth in care for their 19th birthday.
embrella’s Director of Scholarship Programs Marjorie Blicharz points out that drop could be from youth opting to age out of the system as well as adoptions and family reunifications. Blicharz quickly added that just because a youth opts out of care at age 18 doesn’t mean they can’t reopen their case before they turn 21 years old.
Despite the report, New Jersey officials recognize the myriad of difficulties aging out causes a youth in care – especially if they opt out at age 18. That’s why there are programs to help.
The New Jersey Foster Care Scholars Program, administered by embrella, assists students in paying for tuition, room and board, books and supplies, among other costs associated with secondary education. The program, which helped pay tuition and other expenses for 413 students in the last academic year, is offered to eligible youth in foster care as well as those who have aged out of the system. embrella also offers donor-funded private scholarships and opportunity grants for any youth in New Jersey who has a history in the foster care system.
Along with assisting with financial support, embrella also finds gap housing for these students to ensure they don’t become homeless during times off from school, such as summer and winter break.
To find more resources nationally for youth aging out of care, click here.
To learn more about embrella’s services for youth aging out in New Jersey, click here.