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Support Youth Transitioning from Foster Care

Strategies Success Stories

What Can Policymakers Do?

  • Support the placement of youth in permanent nurturing families with their siblings. Transitioning out of foster care without a permanent family is correlated with a range of negative outcomes in young adulthood, such as early pregnancy or parenthood, criminal involvement, homelessness, unemployment and dropping out of high school. [1] However, most young people are discharged from foster care without family or community networks to provide nurturance and support.  Supporting the placement of young people, together in sibling groups, with safe, supportive and permanent families is vitally important to their success in life.
  • Ensure educational continuity and post-secondary educational opportunities.   Education is essential to economic success and independence.  However, merely 58 percent of youth transitioning out of foster care will graduate from high school before age 19, compared to 87 percent of youth nationally,[2] and fewer than 3 percent will earn a college degree by age 25, compared to 28 percent nationally. [3] Educational continuity during placement changes will enable these young people to maintain grade-level learning, staying on track for timely high school graduation.  Additionally, providing opportunities and supports for post-secondary education will help youth in transition attain credentials that will increase their chances of economic success.
  • Expand economic opportunity. Youth who transition out of foster care are less likely to be employed and earn lower wages than other youth, even demographically similar low-income youth. [4] Youth in transition need opportunities to achieve economic success and self-sufficiency.  Asset building, financial literacy and priority connections to workforce pipelines will get youth in care, and those transitioning out, on the path to being productive, successful adults.
  • Support safe, affordable housing options. When young people age out of the foster care system, safe and stable housing is critical to ensure a successful transition to adulthood.  However, over one-fifth of youth who transition out of foster care will become homeless at some time after they turn age 18. [5] Providing priority access to safe affordable housing options will increase the likelihood that young people will transition to adulthood successfully.
  • Ensure access to comprehensive, coordinated health care. Research suggests that a high prevalence of young people in foster care experience physical and mental health problems. [6]   It is important that young people are in care are provided with comprehensive and coordinated health plans and services.  In order to ensure a successful transition to adulthood, providing adequate, seamless health and mental health care services to youth is essential.[7]
  • Create and support opportunities for youth to be listened to, to be informed, to be respected and to exert control over their lives. Youth and young adults possess a critical understanding about the ways that communities and public systems could improve the opportunities for their successful transition to adulthood. [8]  By engaging youth in the process of policymaking, systems improvement and care planning, a level of insight and expertise is added that is not otherwise present.  Not only does engaging youth aid in creating better policy, but it also increases positive outcomes for young people when they transition to adulthood and youth directed planning can help older youth achieve permanence.

[1] Avery, Rosemary and Madelyn Freundlich. Deleterious Consequences of Aging Out of Foster Care. National Convening on Youth Permanence, Summary Report, 2003.

[2] Courtney,M.E., and Dworsky, A. (2005).Midwest evaluation of the adult functioning of former foster youth: Outcomes at age 19.Chicago,IL:ChapinHallCenter for Children. p. 22.

[3] Pecora, P.J., Kessler, R.C., Williams, J., O’Brien, K.,Downs, A.C., English, D., White, J., Hiripi, E., White, C.R., Wiggins, T., and Holmes, K. (2005). Improving family foster care: Findings from the Northwest foster care alumni study.Seattle,WA: Casey Family Programs. p. 1.

[4] Hook, Jennifer L, and Mark Courtney.  Chapin Hall Issue Brief: Employment of Former Foster Youth as Young Adults: Evidence from the Midwest Study.  Chapin Hall at the University of Chicago: March 2010. Available online

[5]  Time for Reform: Aging Out and On Their Own Available online .

[6] Patel, Sonali & Roherty, A Martha (2007) Medicaid Access for Youth Aging Out of Foster Care. Available online . 

[7] Patel, Sonali & Roherty, A Martha (2007) Medicaid Access for Youth Aging Out of Foster Care. Available online . 

[8] Freundlich, M. (2010). Chafee plus ten: A vision of the next decade.St. Louis,MO: Jim Casey Youth Opportunities Initiative.

Resource: The Future of Children, a collaboration of Princeton University and the Brookings Institution, published Transition to Adulthood , a journal containing articles by experts on a number of issues relevant to youth transitioning from foster care. The journal includes pieces about the ways that immigration, the military and labor market outcomes impact youth transitioning to adulthood.