- The Washington Times - Wednesday, May 18, 2005

Foster youth who automatically are released from state care at age 18 are more likely to be evicted, drop out of school or get into trouble with the law than foster youth who are allowed to continue in care, according to a new study.

The policy implications are “pretty obvious,” said Mark E. Courtney, lead investigator of the study released today by Chapin Hall Center for Children at the University of Chicago.

States and the federal government should look for more ways to keep foster youth connected to their support systems as they enter adulthood, he said. As it is now, the system “doesn’t do justice” to them.

When children are abused, abandoned or neglected, they are taken from their families into state care. Each year, an estimated 20,000 of them turn 18 and are so-called “aged out” of the system.

Many participate in programs that teach them how to get a college degree, land a job, find housing and manage personal finances. But at age 18, when federal foster-care funding dries up, most automatically are emancipated from state care and oversight.

The Chapin Hall study included interviews with 736 foster youth, ages 17 and 18, from Illinois, Wisconsin and Iowa. Follow-up interviews were conducted with 603 of the teens when they were 19. Of the latter group, 321 youth no longer were in state care, and 282 still were in state care.

Mr. Courtney said there were “striking” differences between those aged out and those still receiving care. The aged-out teens are less likely to continue with their education and are more likely to miss work. More than 33 percent have been arrested. Nineteen percent struggle to pay rent; 7 percent already have been evicted. And 12 percent often didn’t have enough to eat.

In contrast, the 18-year-olds who remain in state care all live under supervised settings: two-thirds are seeking more education, compared with only one-third of the aged-out teens.

Neither group of foster youth earn much money — 75 percent earn less than $5,000 per year.

The Chapin Hall study also compares all of the foster teens with nonfoster peers in the National Longitudinal Study of Adolescent Health (Add Health).

As shown in other studies — including one in April from the Casey Family Programs and Harvard Medical School — the Chapin Hall study says that foster youth fare significantly worse than nonfoster teens in education, family ties and economic well-being.

For instance, 46 percent of foster youth have checking or savings accounts, compared to 82 percent of Add Health youth.

“This study is a call to action to better support some of the most vulnerable kids, who are essentially on their own,” said Gary Stangler, executive director of the Jim Casey Youth Opportunities Initiative, a foundation that focuses on older foster youth. “These young people need more support past their 18th birthdays to make it.”

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