Housing Trajectories for Youth Transitioning from Foster Care: Gender Differences from 2010–2014

By Hasson, Robert G.,, III; Reynolds, Andrew D. et al. | Child Welfare, January 1, 2015 | Go to article overview

Housing Trajectories for Youth Transitioning from Foster Care: Gender Differences from 2010–2014


Hasson, Robert G.,, III, Reynolds, Andrew D., Crea, Thomas M., Child Welfare


In 2013, there were approximately 402,378 children in foster care in the United States (U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, 2014). 20,000 of those children exit the foster care system to emancipation (rather than to a permanent home), or "age out," when they turn 18 years old (Annie E. Casey Foundation, 2008). The transition from foster care to adulthood is a tumultuous period for young adults and is well documented in research literature (Cunningham & Diversi, 2012; Dworsky & Courtney, 2009). Youth aging out of foster care are particularly at risk of involvement in the criminal justice system (Cusick, Havlicek, & Courtney, 2012; Shook, Goodkind, Pohlig, Schelbe, Herring, & Kim, 2011), experiencing unemployment (LenzRashid, 2006), and low educational attainment (Reilly, 2003). Youth aging out of foster care are also at an increased risk of housing instability (Berzin, Singer, & Hokanson, 2014; Cunningham & Diversi, 2012), which in turn poses serious health threats for youth as homelessness is a risk factor for poorer health and medical hospitalizations (Beijer & Andreasson, 2009). Ensuring that youth aging out of care have access to stable housing is critical to their safe and successful transition to adulthood. The purpose of this study is to examine the housing trajectories of young men and women transitioning out of the foster care system between 2010-2014 in order to better understand the challenges faced by this population and to offer recommendations for practitioners working with transition-age youth.

The experiences of transition-age youth vary by gender, with young women achieving a range of more positive outcomes than young men. Women are reported to achieve higher rates of employment (Stewart, Kum, Barth, and Duncan, 2014), education status (Pecora et al., 2006), and resilience (Daining & DePanfilis, 2007). With respect to housing, Berzin, Rhodes, and Curtis (2011) found that female youth were more likely to obtain independent living arrangements and less likely to be homeless, which in turn may be due to differential access to TANF and housing benefits afforded to custodial parents with children. Conversely, studies by Dworsky, Napolitano, and Courtney (2013) and Cheng, Wood, Feng, Mathias, Montaner, Kerr, and Debeck, (2013) found that young men transitioning out of foster care were at increased risk of experiencing homelessness. Each of these studies of transitional youth indicate a trend toward understanding young women as achieving both higher outcomes generally and more secure housing specifically, while young men are at risk for more negative outcomes and more insecure housing arrangements. However, other studies have shown more mixed results when examining outcomes for women. For example, using The National Longitudinal Study of Adolescent to Adult Health (2009) data to test a model predicting running away from home, Tyler, Hagewen, and Melander (2011) found that while girls were less likely to run away at wave III, they were also more likely to experience family instability and exhibit problem behaviors, which in turn actually placed them at a higher risk of running away from home. Additionally, in a study of hospitalizations of people who are homeless among all ages (rather than just among youth), Beijer & Andreasson (2009) found that young women were at increased risk for homelessness compared to older women and men in their control group.

The ability for transition-age youth to secure stable housing often varies based on their race or ethnicity, education, and employment status. The United States Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD, 2012) found that housing discrimination, although subtle, continues to exist for Blacks, Hispanics, and Asians, compared to Whites. Tighe (2012) found that racial stereotypes influence the general public's perception of subsidized housing, further compounding the ability of racial and ethnic minorities to secure stable housing. …

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