Report: States need to improve opportunities for older foster youth | Friday Morning Coffee

Twenty-eight percent of Pennsylvania’s foster care population was aged 14 and older in 2021, down from 46% in 2006

By: - May 12, 2023 7:13 am
A new report offers recommendations for improving foster care programs and opportunities for young adult ( photo by Fizkes).

A new report offers recommendations for improving foster care programs and opportunities for young adult ( photo by Fizkes).

The hope of permanent families, supportive adult connections, stable housing, and post-secondary education remain out of reach for too many young people in foster care.

That’s the bottom line of a new report by the Annie E. Casey Foundation taking stock of the foster care experiences of teenagers and young adults in all 50 states, Washington D.C, and Puerto Rico, and how child welfare systems support them as they move into adulthood.

As our sibling site Maryland Matters reports, the new data also note that some states have provided financial assistance for foster children and parents, but the foundation said more investments are needed toward job training, post-secondary education and stable housing.

(Source: The Annie E. Casey Foundation)

The report looked at issues ranging from health insurance coverage, employment and educational achievement for those in foster care between the ages of 14 and 21. The document also includes recommendations for federal and state policymakers to improve the foster care system.

The state data profiles included in the report traced the experiences “of young people ages 14 to 21 (‘transition-age’ youth) who were in foster care between 2006 and 2021, including those who exited without being placed with a permanent family,” the report’s authors wrote.Nationwide, neglect was the top reason why teenagers and young adults enter foster care, according to the report.

(Source:The Annie E. Casey Foundation)

In Pennsylvania, 6% of placements were due to neglect in 2006, compared to 29% nationwide. By 2021, that figure had risen to 14%, compared to 48% nationwide. Slightly more than half (53%) of all placements in 2021 were due to behaviorial problems, while 12% were attributable to instances of abuse the data showed.

Some other top-line conclusions from the new report:

  • “For young people ages 14–21 entering foster care, cases reported as ‘neglect’ increased from 29% in 2006 to 48% in 2021. Neglect — not child behavioral problems or abuse — is the reason cited most frequently when older youth enter foster care,
  • “Nationally, child welfare systems find families for fewer than half of teenagers and young adults in foster care — and proportionately for fewer today than in 2016,
  • “More states offer extended foster care and assistance for young people beyond age 18 than did in 2018, but enrollment is low. States also inconsistently document participation, which can complicate efforts to ensure that these young people receive services for which they are eligible,” and
  • “Although the size of the foster care population is significantly smaller today than in the past, and fewer young people are placed in institutional settings, children of color remain overrepresented,
  • “Too few transition-age teenagers and young adults receive the federally funded services intended to prepare them to thrive when they leave foster care. Fewer than half (47%) of transition-age young people received one or more of the services during all the years they were eligible between 2013 and 2021; less than one quarter (23%) were served in 2021,” the report’s authors noted.

“It’s clear from the data that states can do more to ensure that young people in foster care have permanent families and receive the services they need to thrive as they transition into adulthood,” Leslie Gross, the director of the Annie E. Casey Foundation’s Family Well-Being Strategy Group, noted in a summary of the data.

(Source: Annie E. Casey Foundation)

To address these challenges, the report recommends that policymakers:

  • “Address the rise in foster care cases attributed to neglect by examining the role of underlying issues of poverty and focusing on strengthening families and communities to reduce the need for child removals,
  • “Better equip and staff child welfare agencies to promote permanence and prioritize kinship arrangements for older youth,
  • “Improve extended foster care and delivery of transition services so young people receive what they need to thrive in adulthood, including stable housing, postsecondary education and employment,” and
  • “Improve child welfare agencies’ capacity and ability to collect, report and strategically use foster care data,” the report’s authors wrote.

“To achieve better outcomes, all decision makers who are designing solutions must authentically partner with young people who have foster care experience,” Gross said.

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John L. Micek

A three-decade veteran of the news business, John L. Micek is the Pennsylvania Capital-Star's former Editor-in-Chief.