Academic journal article Child Welfare

The Status of Older Adolescents at Exit from Out-of-Home Care

Academic journal article Child Welfare

The Status of Older Adolescents at Exit from Out-of-Home Care

Article excerpt

Administrative data and case record reviews were used to assess the exit status of a sample of older youths leaving out-of-home care in one midwestern state. Results show that most left without a job or a high school diploma, and that many left with neither. The most common living arrangement at the time of exit was with relatives, some through planned reunification and some through unplanned reunification. The majority of the youths exited out-of-home care in unplanned ways. The number of placements and the completion of high school predicted employment status. High school completion was associated with age and a history of inpatient psychiatric care, running away, and mental retardation. Implications for independent living programs for older youths are discussed.

Information about older youths in out-of-home care provides an interesting glimpse into the workings of the public child welfare system. The status of older youths at the time of their exit from the child welfare system serves as one indicator of the system's effectiveness at preparing them for life after placement. Discovering what kinds of youths stay in out-of-home care until they are older adolescents offers a backdoor look into who is best served by permanency planning efforts. The placement histories of these youths also provide information on system priorities and service gaps.

This study explores these issues with a randomly selected sample of older adolescents leaving out-of-home care in a midwestern state. After a review of the literature on older youths in care, the exit status of the youths in the sample is described, and variables related to these outcomes are examined. The implications of these findings for the design of out-of-home care placements and independent-living programs are discussed.

Literature Review

The kinds of youths who remain in care until their late teens and beyond may be changing due to efforts to find permanent homes for youths in out-of-home care. Aldgate et al. [1988] categorized adolescents in out-of-home care into three main groups: (1) those placed at an early age with a stable placement history; (2) those placed at an early age with an unstable placement history; and (3) those placed as teens, usually because of behavior or relationship problems. What percentages fall into these categories today is unknown. Some programs designed to help older adolescents exit out-of-home care have noted that their clients typically have experienced many placements and exhibit severe emotional and behavioral problems [Moore 1995; Stehno 1987]. Few members of a sample of older youths leaving out-of-home care in California had entered care as small children [Courtney & Barth 1996]. Improved permanency planning efforts may have served best those children who were placed early, had stable placement histories, and did not exhibit major behavior problems. As a result, those teens remaining in out-of-home care may be the most troubled of all children in out-of-home care. In a recent study of teenagers in out-of-home care in one jurisdiction in Great Britain, 67% met the criteria for a psychiatric disorder [McCann et al. 1996].

It has been suggested that the adults involved with older youths in out-of-home care have the responsibility of helping them exit "with adequate skills, connections to family, as well as the economic and social supports necessary to allow for a successful transition to independent living" [Child Welfare League of America 1990: 25]. To help states meet this responsibility, the federal government passed legislation to fund independent living services (see DeWoody et al. [1993] for a review of these services). It is difficult, however, to ascertain at what level to set expectations for youths leaving care as a group, given the potential emotional and behavioral problems they exhibit, and the economic realities of being a young adult in society today. Participants in a roundtable discussion of research on readiness for independent living concluded that "perhaps it is unrealistic that these youth are ready for anything at age 18" [Lyman et al. …

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