Academic journal article Child Welfare

Former Foster Youth's Perspectives on Independent Living Preparation Six Months after Discharge

Academic journal article Child Welfare

Former Foster Youth's Perspectives on Independent Living Preparation Six Months after Discharge

Article excerpt

In September 2012, approximately 397,000 children and adolescents were in foster care or other out-of-home placements. About 19% of these children and youth were age 16 or over. Another 24,821 teenagers and youth emancipated from foster care during the same time period (Children's Bureau, 2013). These youth were expected to make the transition to the more independent adult roles which include securing employment, achieving self-sufficiency, living independently, continuing their education, building of relationships and support systems, experiencing family formation, and becoming a contributing member of a larger community (Mares, 2010).

Foster youth are handicapped in making a successful transition. These youth not only lose public support at emancipation, but they may not have the supports from the family available to non-foster children when they encounter difficulties adjusting to independence. Foster youth are also expected to make this move toward independence at a much earlier date than youth in the general population. Even before the Great Recession, changes in the economy had made it more difficult for young people to establish self-sufficiency. The increased importance of higher education or advanced training has meant youth leave home at later ages than they have done so in the past (Furstenburg, 2010). Census data indicates youth in general population are leaving the parental home at age around 23, and are often returning home after an initial stalled attempt at living independently (Williams, 2005). The average age that American youth finally depart the home is 28 (Clark & Davis, 2005; Mouw, 2004). Schoeni and Ross (1993) analyzed data collected more than 20 years ago and found that even then, parents' financial contributions to their adult children were substantial. In today's dollars, these parents provided, on average, $2,200 per year to their adult offspring (aged 18-34).

Research on Foster Youth on Leaving Care

Research findings have developed a troubling narrative of youth leaving foster care. The following is a summary of some of the problems that have been noted with former foster children.

The cumulative research reports that only 39% to 65% of youth in care earn a high school diploma or general equivalency diploma before exiting the foster care system (Barth, Courtney, Berrick, & Albert, 2004; Courtney & Dworsky, 2005; & Pecora, Kessler, Williams, Downs, English, White, & Hiripi, 2005). W hen foster youth do graduate from high school, they are less likely to proceed on to post-secondary education than youth in the general population. Nationally, about 53% of youth in the general population have attended at least one year of college education. Only 30% of former foster youth have at least a year of college (Courtney, Dworsky, Cusick, Havlicek, Perez, & Keller, 2007). Even when former foster youth do attend college, their graduation rates lag behind those of their non-foster peers. Only 26% of foster youth alumni who enter college finish their degrees in six years, versus a 56% completion rate among all undergraduates (Snyder & Tan, 2006).

Youth often leave foster care without employment, and when they do work it is in unskilled low wage jobs (Barth, 1990; Berzin, 2008; Buehler, Orme, Post, & Patterson, 2000; Cook, 1994, Dworsky, 2005; Pecora, Williams, Kessler, O'Brien, Hiripi, 2003). Therefore, it is not surprising foster youth report higher rates of public assistance and poverty (Berzin, 2008; Courtney, Piliavin, Grogan-Kaylor, & Nesmith, 2001; Needell, Cuccaro-Alamin, Brookhart, Jackman, & Sclonsky, 2002; & RTI, 2008). Data from the National Survey of Child and Adolescent Well-Being, a longitudinal study that utilized a probability sample of children who had received child welfare services, found that 41.8% of former foster youth were living in poverty. The poverty rate among single young adults nationally was 30% (RTI, 2008). Berzin (2008) used propensity matching to link foster youth with non-foster youth comparisons in a national probability sample, the National Longitudinal Survey of Youth. …

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