Melanie Doucet, National Council of Youth in Care Advocates
This summary document highlights key recurring recommendations on ‘aging out’ of care that have been put forward by youth in and from care, advocates and researchers from across the country since the late 1980s. Since 1987, 75 reports centered on youth in care and the ‘aging out’ of care process have been published across Canada, amounting to over 435 concrete recommendations for change to child protection policy and practice targeted to the transition to adulthood for youth in care. The authors of these reports range from national, provincial and territorial youth in care networks, provincial and territorial child and youth advocates, private foundations and university researchers in partnership with community-based organizations.
This exploratory research was undertaken to review outcomes for youth who have transitioned or “aged-out” of the child protection system in Ontario. The purpose is to better understand the lasting impact of growing up in the child protection system. The analysis sought to synthesize data from selected academic and “gray literature” (media stories or articles written by professionals in the field) and supplement it with information obtained from 17 informal interviews with staff at Ontario stakeholder organizations serving youth in care. The data overwhelmingly show compromised life outcomes for youth who age-out of care compared to peers who were not involved in care. Typical outcomes for youth who age out of care include: low academic achievement; unemployment or underemployment; homelessness and housing insecurity; criminal justice system involvement; early parenthood; poor physical and mental health; and loneliness. These outcomes persist across decades, countries, varied policy approaches and the research methodology used in the studies. It is tempting to suggest that traumatic backgrounds and personal characteristics of youth are the “cause” of these poor outcomes; however, the findings from this study suggest structural factors and professional practices inherent in the child protection system may contribute significantly to poor outcomes for youth aging-out of care. Both policies and systemic practices must be examined so they are more informed and able to meet the needs of young people leaving care. As such, it is recommended that a longitudinal study of youth outcomes after aging-out of Ontario’s systems of care be undertaken to improve institutional responses. Future research should: ask Ontario youth about their experiences with aging-out; explore differences between sub-groups of youth after leaving care; and undertake to identify key structural and service barriers inherent to the present system that compromise youth outcomes. An evidence-based child protection system focused on youth outcomes is essential for effective intervention in the lives of vulnerable children and families.
Youth Leaving Care Working Group
The Working Group was established to build on the goals and recommendations from My REAL Life Book to prepare an action plan that included strategies, timeframes, and the relevant parties required for implementation. The Working Group recognized that it would be the responsibility of the Ministry, working with other Ministries, Children’s Aid Societies, youth and a wide range of other community stakeholders to implement the Blueprint. It therefore focused on naming the areas of the child welfare system that needed to change and on providing guidance to the Ministry on the critical components of that change. The Blueprint can be seen as a map that shows the destinations; the Ministry’s task, with its partners, is to choose the right vehicles to reach those destinations.
The Blueprint is organized under the following themes:
- EDUCATION AND EMPLOYMENT
- HEALTHY DEVELOPMENT
- TRANSITION SUPPORT
- YOUTH JUSTICE
- GROUP CARE
- MINISTRY POLICY
Deborah Rutman, Carol Hubberstey, April Feduniw, with assistance from Erinn Brown
The Promoting Positive Outcomes for Youth From Care project was a prospective, British Columbia study designed to examine what happened to youth following their exit from government care. The project followed 37 youth over a 2.5 year period between 2003 and 2006; data were collected through a series of four face to face interviews, scheduled 6-9 months apart, using both an open-ended and fixed choice interview format. As another aspect of the research, the project provided “peer support” to the youth.
This paper reports on the life circumstances of the youth participants from Time 1 to Time 4. As with the two previous reports (Baseline Report on Findings; Bulletin of Time 2 Findings), findings presented in this Final Report continue to present a disquieting picture of youths’ life circumstances. Not unlike existing North American literature on youth from care, youth from this study were found to: have a lower level of education; be more likely to rely on income assistance as their main source of income; have a more fragile social support network; experience considerable transience and housing instability; and be parenting. In relation to criminal activities, youths’ involvement with the criminal justice system declined over time. However, subsequent to leaving care, they continued to be victimized in various ways.
In September 2005, the Toronto-based Task Force on Modernizing Income Security for Working Age Adults (MISWAA) examined Canada’s income security system and presented proposals to improve the economic security of low-income, working-age adults. Former youth in care, with their poor outcomes and limited prospects for self-sufficiency as they progress through adulthood, are a small but important part of this population. In Canada, provincial and territorial governments have the jurisdictional responsibility for child welfare. In all provinces and territories, this responsibility ends when the youth reaches the age of majority, generally eighteen. Youth in care may receive extended services past age eighteen, subject to certain requirements. This article examines recent Canadian, American, and international research on what happens to youth who age out of the child welfare system. The findings show a consistently disturbing pattern of poor outcomes for youth leaving foster care. The article describes what governments should do to promote more successful transition and to improve the outcomes for youth as they leave the child welfare system for independent living.
The transition to adult life of looked-after young people depends on a combination and interaction of multiple contributing factors such as past experiences, challenges faced by the young people in their current life situation, the support they have received and their personal strengths. Several reviews and studies have reported of poor outcomes for care leavers and indicate that this is a worldwide phenomenon. A lower level of support in the transition process increases the risk for social exclusion, homelessness, unemployment, low education, financial difficulties and behavioral problems. The aim of this review was to gather, assess and synthesize the current empirical evidence of transition to adult life from the perspective of young people leaving foster care. A systematic review was conducted in six scientific databases to identify relevant qualitative studies published from 2010 to 2017, and 21 studies met the inclusion criteria. The quality of the included studies was evaluated using the checklist for qualitative studies of the Critical Appraisal Skills Programme (2017). Data were analyzed using a narrative method. Care leavers had two views of their transition to adult life. The views differed clearly based on the care leavers’ experiences of their capabilities, emotions and identity. The care leaving process was described as an unprepared and unfocused process which provided the care leavers no opportunities for participating in the decision-making concerning their future. The young people had acquired few survival skills for independent living in aftercare. Care leavers often lacked the support of family members, former care providers and institutional bodies. The challenges young people often faced during the transition to independent living were concerned with academic qualifications, housing problems, employment and financial instability, building relationships and assimilating to cultural norms, and access to health care. The results of the review can be utilized in the development of services and in designing future studies.
Laura Gypen, Johan Vanderfaeillie, Skrallan De Maeyer, Laurence Belenger, Frank Van Holen
Foster care is one of the most far-reaching interventions targeted at children who are abused or neglected by their parents, or who are engaged in anti-social behavior (Lindquist & Santavirta, 2014). The large number of children in foster care and the high cost of child welfare, makes the outcomes of former foster youth a trending topic in research. However, research that combines results on different extents (education, employment, wages, housing, mental health, substance abuse and criminality) is sparse. Using the PRISMA method, the outcomes of 32 original quantitative studies were compared. The studies were categorized into two groups reflecting on the child welfare orientation of the country: child protection vs. family service (Gilbert, Parton, & Skivenes, 2011). The results are clear as well as troubling. In both systems, children who leave care continue to struggle on all areas (education, employment, income, housing, health, substance abuse and criminal involvement) compared to their peers from the general population. A stable foster care placement, establishing a foothold in education and having a steady figure (mentor) who supports youth after they age out of care seem to be important factors to improve the outcomes.
Do They Get What They Expect? The Connection Between Young Adults’ Future Expectations Before Leaving Care and Outcomes After Leaving Care
This study examines the future expectations of young people in out-of-home placements in the last year before leaving care and the association between those expectations and their outcomes after leaving care. The study examines the hypothesis that care leavers with higher future expectations will have better outcomes in the areas of housing, educational achievements, economic status, adjustment to military service, and life satisfaction. The study was conducted through 277 interviews with the young adults at their last year in care and 236 interviews a year after they left care. Higher future expectations while in care were positively correlated with satisfaction in accommodation, economic status and educational achievements and adjustment to required military service after leaving care. These findings emphasize the role of future expectations as a source of resilience and motivation. They also illustrate the importance of designing programs that address care leavers’ self-perception and future outlook and offer preparation in concrete areas as the youth transition to adult life.
D. Wayne Osgood, E. Michael Foster, Mark E. Courtney
D. Wayne Osgood, E. Michael Foster, and Mark E. Courtney examine the transition to adult-hood for youth involved in social service and justice systems during childhood and adolescence. They survey the challenges faced by youth in the mental health system, the foster care system, the juvenile justice system, the criminal justice system, and special education, and by youth with physical disabilities and chronic illness, as well as runaway and homeless youth.
Clara Daining, Diane DePanfilis
Youth in transition from out-of-home care to adulthood are a vulnerable sub-population of the foster care system. In addition to the trauma of maltreatment, and challenges associated with out-of-home care, these youth face the premature and abrupt responsibility of self-sufficiency as they leave care for independent living. The purpose of this study was to identify personal and interpersonal factors that contribute to resilience of young adults who left out-of-home care of a large urban child welfare system during a one year period. Sixty percent of the eligible young adults participated in a computer-assisted self-administered interview about their self-sufficiency including: educational attainment, employment, housing, parenthood, health risk behavior, criminal activity, and perceived levels of social support, spiritual support, community support, and global life stress. This study explored the relationship between support systems, life stress, and the young adults’ resilience reflecting key outcomes. The study’s findings indicated that females, older youth, and youth with lower perceived life stress had higher resilience scores. Implications for child welfare practice, policy, theory, and research advance knowledge about young adults in transition from out-of-home care.
Joseph J. Doyle, Jr.
Little is known about the effects of placing children who are abused or neglected into foster care. This paper uses the placement tendency of child protection investigators as an instrumental variable to identify causal effects of foster care on long-term outcomes–including juvenile delinquency, teen motherhood, and employment–among children in Illinois where a rotational assignment process effectively randomizes families to investigators. Large marginal treatment effect estimates suggest caution in the interpretation, but the results suggest that children on the margin of placement tend to have better outcomes when they remain at home, especially older children.
“Tomorrow is Another Problem”: The Experiences of Youth in Foster Care During Their Transition to Adulthood
Sarah Geenen, Laurie E. Powers
This study gathered qualitative information about the experiences of youth transitioning out of foster care into adulthood, from the perspectives of youth themselves, as well as foster parents and professionals. Data was gathered from 10 focus groups comprised of a total of 88 participants, including youth currently in foster care (n = 19), foster care alumni (n = 8), foster parents (n = 21), child welfare professionals (n = 20), education professionals (n = 9), Independent Living Program staff (n = 9) and other key professionals (n = 2). Findings of key themes included: (a) self-determination; (b) coordination/collaboration (c) importance of relationships; (d) importance of family; (e) normalizing the foster care experience; (f) the Independent Living Program and (g) issues related to disability.
USA, United Kingdom, Canada, France
This annotation focuses on outcomes for long-term foster care in the U.K., U.S.A., Canada, and France. It has benefited from a number of previous reviews: e.g. of foster care outcomes by Prosser (1978) and Triseliotis (1989), the overview of all state-provided care in the U.K., including residential care, undertaken by Wolkind and Rushton (1994), and of foster care in general by Berridge (1997). Berridge’s review examines all aspects of foster care, but does not focus specifically on outcomes. However, it strongly implies throughout that outcomes are dependent on the context and supports for foster care practice. In particular, Berridge points out that there has been a shortage of foster carers in the U.K. for some time. A shortage of foster carers reduces the possibilities for matching between foster family and foster child. It also increases the dangers of ‘‘stretching’’, that is, persuading foster carers to accept children outside the categories they have committed themselves to take. Barth and Berry (1988), in a study of the adoption of older children, found there was a tendency for stretching to be associated with placement disruption. The chances of disruption became even greater if social workers also failed to provide adequate information about the child to be placed. There seems no reason why the same should not apply to foster care.
Around the world, the transition to adulthood is a difficult time for many youth. It is even more difficult for those who are transitioning to adulthood without the benefit of a support network full of family and friends. Youth leaving state care face a transition to independence and adulthood without many of the skills and supports most others take for granted. Preparedness is key to a successful transition, and youth leaving state care tend to be lacking it. In order for youth to truly be prepared for the transition process, they must have support in key areas of their lives: relationships, education, housing, life skills, identity, youth engagement, emotional healing, and adequate financial support. Without these supports, the dismal outcomes for youth transitioning to adulthood will remain unchanged. The United States, England, and Australia have successful programs targeting youth as they transition out of state care. These initiatives bring together and address the variety of needs of this unique population and aim to improve outcomes. While many of these programs and policies are in their infancy, they show promising results, and each contributes valuable experience to successfully working with youth through this tough transition.