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National Foster Care Month: Learning from Research

By Emily Skehan, May 6, 2014

Each May, National Foster Care Month provides an opportunity for us to reflect and act on the year-round needs of American youth in foster care.

One of our strategic initiatives at the Conrad N. Hilton Foundation is achieving healthy and productive lives for foster youth transitioning to adulthood in Los Angeles County and New York City. Each May, National Foster Care Month provides an opportunity for us to reflect and act on the year-round needs of American youth in foster care.

In all of our strategic initiatives, we strive not only to support critical programs working on the ground, but also to learn about the potential needs, service gaps, and successful innovations that exist, so we can improve how we address these issues. As we approach nearly two years of strategic grantmaking in our Foster Youth initiative, research has been an essential tool in defining our priorities, understanding the needs of the foster youth we aim to support, and guiding our programmatic investments. Here are some recent highlights of the role of research in our work:

Groundbreaking Foundation-funded report: In November 2013, University of Southern California Professor Emily Putnam-Hornstein released California’s Most Vulnerable Parents: A Population-Based Examination of Youth Involved with Child Protective Services. This first-of-its-kind study linked birth and child protective services records in Los Angeles County, revealing new insights regarding teens in the foster care system who become young parents. According to the study, one in four girls in foster care give birth before age 20 and as many as 40 percent of these young mothers have a second child during their teen years. Furthermore, rates of abuse and neglect among children born to teen mothers with a history of victimization are more than three times the rates of children whose teen mothers had no record of abuse or neglect in their own childhoods. This research has led to a series of policy and practice implications and recommendations, and was cited in one of the interim recommendations presented to the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors by the Blue Ribbon Commission on Child Protection.

Crossover Youth Research Roundtable: In February 2014, the Georgetown Center for Juvenile Justice Reform held a roundtable, where experts in child welfare and juvenile justice from across the nation met to discuss the population of youth who “cross over” from child welfare to juvenile justice. Attendees discussed what we know about this group of young people and their risk factors for justice system involvement, how we can learn more in order to improve their life outcomes, and how to translate research into positive changes in practice and policy. Recent findings about these young people document that a history of maltreatment in childhood makes it far more likely for a youth to enter the justice system in adolescence, and that youth in the justice system who have come from child welfare have greater and more complex needs that are not well addressed by incarceration. This roundtable provided a productive venue for researchers to share work happening across the field and to create a national research agenda to help funders and practitioners understand service gaps, high-risk groups, and potential interventions that will create a stronger support network and services for crossover youth.

While research can at times appear inaccessible to those working on the ground, our knowledge grantees strive to make sure their findings have concrete, meaningful impact on the programs and policies that affect foster youth. We also connect the findings from our knowledge grantees to stakeholders who can provide research-informed recommendations to practitioners and policymakers. However, as one researcher observed, “unless we know who foster youth are and what they need to succeed, it will be incredibly difficult to help them reach their goals.”

This video of foster youth who are now on the cusp of adulthood reminds us of the resiliency and courage of the youth “behind the data” and why it is so important to understand their needs, challenges and dreams not only in the research, but in the real, personal world in which they live.

Emily Skehan Twitter

Program Officer, Special Programs

Emily Skehan Twitter

Program Officer, Special Programs

Related Priority

Foster Youth

Achieving healthy and productive lives for transition age youth in foster care. Learn more ›

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