Academic journal article Child Welfare

Factors Influencing Risk of Homelessness among Youth in Transition from Foster Care in Oklahoma: Implications for Reforming Independent Living Services and Opportunities

Academic journal article Child Welfare

Factors Influencing Risk of Homelessness among Youth in Transition from Foster Care in Oklahoma: Implications for Reforming Independent Living Services and Opportunities

Article excerpt

Turning 18 is a rite of passage for most youth that is met with opportunity and excitement. The majority of foster care youth in Oklahoma do exit care in planful ways and are likely able to experience many of the same opportunities and feelings of excitement. These youth often return to their families, get adopted, or have an individual take over as their legal guardian. However, from 2009-2013, 1,639 youth exited foster care in Oklahoma without permanency. For these youth, feelings of excitement may be replaced with angst, uncertainty, anxiety, and a host of many other negative emotions (Cunningham & Diversi, 2013; Geenen & Powers, 2007).

This lack of permanent connections and life skills increases the likelihood of these youth experiencing homelessness. With the assistance of a federal planning grant in 2014, the Oklahoma Department of Human Services established The Road to Independence (RTI) Network. The purpose of RTI is to identify youth with a history of maltreatment most at risk of experiencing poor outcomes in housing, education, employment, well-being, and permanent connections. Specifically, in 2014, the RTI team has used data collected from state and local agencies to identify those youth most at-risk of experiencing homelessness so that services can be adapted to reduce the risk of youth experiencing homelessness. The RTI team is supported by the Administration for Children and Families Family and Youth Services Bureau grant, "Planning Grants to Develop a Model Intervention for Youth/Young Adults with Child Welfare Involvement At-Risk of Homelessness." The two-year planning grant is designed to build the capacity of state and local organizations to prevent long-term homelessness among the most at-risk youth/young adults with child welfare involvement.

Foster Care and Homelessness

Despite changes in the total number of youth in foster care between 2008 and 2012, the percentage of youth who age out of foster care in the United States has remained relatively consistent at 11% (U.S. (U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Administration for Children and Families, Administration for Children, Youth, and Families, & Children's Bureau, 2013). In Oklahoma, the total number of youth in foster care has fluctuated between 2008 and 2013, with a high of 11,563 in 2008 and a low of 8,474 in 2010; there were 11,063 youth in care in 2013. Oklahoma has seen a steady decline in the total numbers of youth aging out, with 446 having this exit designation in 2009 and 268 in 2013. Although a much smaller percentage than the national average, the percentage of youth aging out in Oklahoma has remained between 6-7%, according to their referral and removal data from 2008-2013.

Estimating the prevalence of youth homelessness is difficult due to issues regarding the definition of homelessness, complications in identifying homeless youth, and a lack of participation in social services by these homeless youth (Gordon & Hunter, 2011). These difficulties result in annual estimates of the prevalence of youth homelessness that range from 550,000 to 3,000,000.

The Intersection of Child Welfare and Homelessness

Research consistently has shown that youth who age out of foster care do not receive the same type of support and assistance as many of their peers, and therefore may be at higher risk of experiencing homelessness (Brown & Wilderson, 2010; Dworsky, Dillman, Dion, Coffee-Borden, & Rosenau, 2012; Osgood, Foster, & Courtney, 2010). Although findings from the National Longitudinal Study of Adolescent Health show that an estimated 4% of youth aged 18-26 experienced homelessness (Harris & Udry, 2014), White and colleagues found that nearly 1 in 5 youth with foster care experience experienced homelessness (2011). In their study of former foster care youth in the Midwest Study, Courtney and colleagues (2011) found that 30% of youth who aged out of foster care experienced homelessness at least once. …

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