How Policy Affects Our Communities: Encouraging Findings from the California Youth Transitions to Adulthood Study (CalYOUTH)
Young people in extended foster care were more likely than those who had left care to be enrolled in school full time, and they were less likely than those who had left to experience food insecurity, to have couch surfed, and to have been convicted of a crime since their last interview.
In 2008, there was an important shift towards increased federal responsibility for supporting foster youth during their transition to adulthood, when The Fostering Connections to Success and Increasing Adoptions Act of 2008 (“Fostering Connections Act”) extended the age of foster care services from 18 to 21 years old. This means that individual states may now receive compensation from the federal government for the costs of foster care maintenance payments made on behalf of eligible foster youth until they are 21 years old, however they are not required to do so.
Although nearly 50 percent of all states have implemented legislation to leverage the Fostering Connections option of extending care past age 18 and others are considering doing so, California is arguably the most important early adopter of the new policy. California has the largest state foster care population in the U.S., and of all of the counties in California, Los Angeles County has the greatest number of children in foster care.
Recently, Dr. Mark Courtney at the University of Chicago released the results of a survey in collaboration with the California Department of Social Services and County Welfare Directors Association of California (CWDA). This study, the CalYOUTH Wave 2 Los Angeles County Report, was carried out over a 5-year period from 2012–17, and focused on participants in Los Angeles County. This report serves as an evaluation of the impact of the California Fostering Connections Act on outcomes during the transition of foster youth into adulthood and is the most comprehensive view to date of young adults making the transition to adulthood from foster care in Los Angeles.
Below are a few key takeaways from the CalYOUTH Wave 2 Los Angeles County Report:
1. Diversity: The diversity of the CalYOUTH participants clearly indicated that a one-size fits all approach is not appropriate. As an example, the survey results indicate that as many as 20 percent of respondents have a health condition that limit daily activities. Other variances with regard to education, employment, pregnant and parenting and involvement in the criminal justice system were also reported. Extended care must be sensitive to culture and community.
2. Resilience: Despite often-troubled histories, foster youth remain overwhelmingly optimistic and resilient about their future and have high aspirations, with 64.3 percent of respondents saying they were “Very optimistic” about their personal goals for the future.
3. Positive Outcomes: The vast majority of the young adults in the study chose to take advantage of extended foster care, and most are satisfied with the help they are receiving through extended care.
These results provide valuable information for policymakers, program developers, advocates and others interested in better meeting the needs of youth transitioning from foster care to adulthood. Policy and practice should be informed by a deeper understanding of the strengths and challenges these young people bring to the transition to adulthood as well as by what the youth say about the effectiveness of services intended to help them.
Findings from the California Youth Transitions to Adulthood Study (CalYOUTH)
Conditions of Youth at Age 19: Los Angeles County Report