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By Sarah C. Threnhauser, MPA

The “outcomes” for the 24,000 youth in the foster care system that enter adulthood each year don’t look good – they are less likely to graduate college, are more likely to be unemployed or underemployed, and have limited financial resources. The advocacy group Children’s Rights reports that 47% of former foster children are unemployed, and of those with jobs, 71% report an annual income of less than $25,000 (see Unemployment Rampant Among Former Foster Youth); and less than 10% of former foster care youth earn a bachelor’s degree (see Fostering Success in Education: National Factsheet on the Educational Outcomes of Children in Foster Care).

State approaches to addressing the situation – and the challenges to those approaches – are varied (see How Do States Differ In What Services Are Available For Youth Aging Out Of Foster Care?). There are a growing number of youth with behavioral health conditions, an inability for many of them to take advantage of “traditional” transition services, and the lack of guidance and support during that transition (see Addressing The Issues Of The ‘Aging Out’ Foster Child – The View From The Ground). But there are some new developments in both state policy and in program offerings that are worth noting.

One development is changing state policy about eligibility for benefits. For example, starting this past January 2017, the state of North Carolina made foster care support services available to young adults aged 18 to 21 as part of the new state program, “Foster 18 to 21.” This program is estimated to serve 500 to 1,000 young adults at any given time, offer opportunities to continue foster care placement, and transition to independence with county child welfare agency supervision (see North Carolina Extends Foster Care Services To Age 21).

Another new approach is post-secondary education initiatives intended specifically for high school-age youth in foster care. One of these was recently announced by KVC Health Systems, a foster care, adoption, and behavioral health care provider organization headquartered in Kansas. Last month, KVC and West Virginia University (WVU) announced a lease agreement for part of the WVU Institute of Technology Montgomery Campus, with the intention of turning that space into a specialized college for former foster youth (see KVC Health Systems Plans To Create Specialized College For Former West Virginia Foster Youth). Additionally, the City University of New York, or CUNY, rolled out the specialized Start/ASAP Foster Care Initiative program last year to help students formerly in foster care pursue associate’s degrees at one of its colleges (see CUNY Initiative Aims To Help Youths From Foster Care Succeed In College).

Additionally, new data about transitional living programs are showing success. Recent findings from a study of Youth Villages, a relatively new transitional living program for young adults aging out of Tennessee Department of Children’s Services (DCS) care, showed positive outcomes. The program led to increased earnings, housing stability, and economic well-being — as well as some improved outcomes related to health and safety — for participants when compared to a control group who received standard services (see Transitional Living Program For Foster Youth Increased Housing Stability, Economic Well-Being).

The current “success statistics” and these new developments suggest a need for a more comprehensive policy framework that includes new approaches to programming. This is where the child welfare system could borrow some developments on the health care side of the equation by addressing the “aging out” foster child population as a population with “complex” support needs. Coordinated care management models that take into account the medical, behavioral, and social needs of these consumers may enhance improve overall outcomes (see Going ‘Social’ – The Next Iteration Of ACOs, Strategies For Addressing The Social Determinants Of Health, and Building The ‘Next Generation’ Behavioral & Social Service ACO).

The question is how to cross the multiple systems of care and supports to make this happen. For more on that, I reached out to OPEN MINDS Senior Associate, Paul Neitman, who writes:

Mr. Neitman

There has been a significant increase in attention paid to youth aging out of the system. For the longest time they were left to fend for themselves, or maybe with public assistance as their financial transition to adulthood, if they could figure out how to successfully apply for assistance. Then they got caught up in the era when we held welfare recipients accountable and addressed “abuse” where many of these “able bodied” adults no longer qualified.

For many years there have been federal college tuition support dollars available and more recently some states have enhanced that. Colleges are beginning to develop some supports and are making policy changes specifically geared toward this new “market” they’ve come to see. More recently we’ve had the “voluntary foster care” program that came about because of federal allowance to extend foster care to age 21. Yet these youth still struggle mightily. Many never take advantage of these resources and the poor life outcomes continue.

What’s missing?  Ongoing guidance, support, and direction for foster youth transitioning out of care – a kind of “care coordination” that comes from someone who helps them with applying for college and financial supports. They can be there with them when school or a job becomes overwhelming, and who has the confidence in the youth’s ability to succeed.

The kids in our foster care system didn’t always get some of the emotional building blocks and other things they needed growing up, until much later in life. It would be best if this could come from some type of informal, natural support system, but it needs to come from somewhere. Some type of ongoing transitional support system has to be a part of the plan for these youth – financial resources are needed, but not enough.  

There’s a great deal of promise to improve outcomes for these young adults, but it might not amount to its full potential if industry stakeholders — and provider organizations in particular — don’t help support the access and utilization needed to effectively make this change. With every new “development,” there will be a greater onus placed on progressive organizations to bring industry-leading service coordination abilities to bear on each additional resource available.

For more on the changing child welfare market, check out these resources from the OPEN MINDS Industry Library.

  1. The Future Of Child Welfare Services – What The Thoughtleaders Think
  2. How Are We Spending Child Welfare Dollars?
  3. Child Welfare Services – How Much Are We Spending?
  4. Problems & Solutions In Improving The Foster Care System
  5. Should ‘Foster Parent’ Be A Salaried Position?
  6. Complex Needs = Complex Care Management For Children In Foster Care).

Looking for ways to adapt to the changing children’s services market? Join my colleagues Howard Shiffman, senior associate at OPEN MINDS and Joseph M. Costa, chief executive officer at Hillsides, on March 22, 2017, at 2 p.m. (EST) for Developing & Utilizing Your 21st Century Not-For-Profit Board In An Era Of Change: The Hillsides Case Study, an executive Web briefing exclusively for members of the OPEN MINDS Next Generation Forum On Children’s Services. If you would like more information on the OPEN MINDS Next Generation Forum On Children’s Services and how to become a member, please contact Wyatt Delaney at

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