It is well documented that youth who transition out of foster care have dismal success rates compared to their ‘normalized’ counterparts. According to recent statistics, between 21% and 50% of foster youth become homeless upon exiting care. Further, according to a 2017 Santa Clara County Homeless Census & Survey, 45% of the homeless population under age 25 in Santa Clara County had spent time in the foster care system.1 These discrepancies can be seen in every category in which transition aged successes are identified and measured, including early and long term homelessness, unplanned pregnancies, rates of incarceration, and earnings. To improve outcomes, transitioned aged youth must be in a nurturing and supportive environment that promotes their best efforts and reinforces personal respect though principles of accountability. With RTB’s comprehensive case management model, the goal is to improve the rates of successful transitions to adulthood for current and former foster youth, as well as other disadvantaged youth populations.
Many youth are now both growing up in as well as ‘aging out’ the foster care system; they often transition into adulthood without positive, loving relationships with adults they can count on. As these foster youth enter adulthood, they carry a greater risk of emotional and mental health issues and lack the required skills and resources to become self-sufficient. While the majority of non-foster care youth leave homes with stable and lasting emotional support from responsible and caring adults, life after foster care is daunting for former foster teens who are basically on their own. Studies have shown foster youth are at high risk for dropping out of high school, being involved in criminal activity, and experiencing homelessness, unemployment, and early parenthood.2 Based on the negative lifelong outcomes of foster care youth, it is clear that something is missing from the foster care system. However, there is little to no research focusing on relationship-building as a point of intervention. A system change that incorporates relationship development, acceptance and understanding, healthy attachments, open communication, and longer, quality services, is necessary to fill in the cracks that so many foster care youth fall through.3
Additionally, according to a survey conducted by Human Rights Watch on foster youth aging out of foster care in California, 90%, had no source of income when they left foster care and were expected to be on their own. Further, more than 60% reported that they did not have a high school diploma when they ‘aged out’.4
In the state of Michigan, while Dwayne v. Granholm (2008) addressed the structural deficits of the foster care system, it failed to confront the quality of the support. For example, reforms have focused on enforcing school attendance (rather than promoting educational success); providing a place to sleep (rather than a loving home); increasing financial resources (rather than promoting lasting mentorship); and giving youth access to doctors and counselors to medicate behavior problems (rather than facilitating genuine relationships with the adults responsible for their care).2 Unfortunately, similar standards underpin foster care systems nationwide – and current outcomes are reflective of that practice.5
Looking at employment, for example, there is clear variability in youth outcomes. One of the most consistent predictors of employment and wages is an individual’s human capital, or stock of education and skills. High school completion, college attendance, and a college degree are all associated with the likelihood of employment and higher wages. Former foster youth, however, are less likely to have educational credentials than other youth. Educational attainment is hindered by both individual characteristics, such as histories of abuse and neglect, and characteristics of the foster and educational systems, such as increased school changes and concentration in poor-performing schools. Youths’ social capital is also linked to their employment outcomes. Social capital refers to the personal relationships youth may have that could facilitate employment, such as access to an adult who could provide assistance getting a job or access to a social network that could provide information about employment opportunities. Youths’ experience in foster care affects their social capital. Ties to adults that can aid youth in finding employment may be weaker for youth who exited from group care or a residential treatment center, were emancipated early, or who experienced many moves while in care. Youth exiting from group homes are less likely to be employed and earn lower wages in California. Conversely children who remain in care past the age of 18 may benefit from continued attachment to adults.6
For their ultimate success, it is imperative that current and former foster youth have the capacity to develop and sustain positive, healthy relationships. Child welfare agencies often overlook the importance of trying to fill this void by failing to emphasize the importance of incorporating emotional support from caring adults into the foster care experience. For example, in a report completed for the Pew Commission on Children in Foster Care, Badeau and Gesiriech (2003) state that the ―child welfare agency is responsible for ensuring the safety and well-being of children, and defines foster care as: ―full-time substitute care for children removed from their parents or guardians and for whom the state has responsibility. Foster care provides food and housing to meet the physical needs of children who are removed from their homes (p. 1). The latter definition highlights the child welfare system‘s narrow focus on Maslow‘s first level of need, neglecting the remaining three levels.7
To improve outcomes, transitioned aged youth must be in a nurturing and supportive environment that promotes their best efforts and reinforces personal respect through the principles of accountability. With RTB’s comprehensive case management model, the goal is to improve the rates of successful transitions to adulthood for current and former foster youth, as well as other disadvantaged youth populations by providing an environment where transitioning aged youth (TAY) are given the space to choose their life and career path, while harnessing their skills for entering adulthood as self-sufficient individuals. RTB champions interdependence, and underpinning our core principle is the ability to forge strong, lasting relationships among our community.
- On Their Own: What Happens to Kids When They Age Out of the Foster Care System: Boulder, CO: Westview Press. xii, p. 307
- Understanding the Void: The Importance of Relationship Development and How it Impacts Foster Care Youth Outcomes: Michigan Journal of Social Work: Volume II, Issue II
- Human Rights Watch: My So Called Emancipation: May, 2010
- Chapin Hall Issue Brief: University of Washington: March, 2010