California foster youth who remain in extended foster care after they turn 18 have more savings and are more educated than their peers who exit foster care at 18, according to a report released late last year by the University of Chicago-based research group Chapin Hall.
In 2012, Assembly Bill 12 extended foster care from age 18 to age 21 for eligible California foster youth. University of Chicago professor Mark Courtney and his team found that each additional year that a foster youth was in extended foster care added $404 in savings, and increased their likelihood of enrolling in college by about 10 percent.
Amy Lemley, executive director of John Burton Advocates for Youth, said that she was “delighted by the outcomes,” including the decreased likelihood of pregnancy among females.
“When we have the nation’s top researcher using the most rigorous methods showing that unintended pregnancies decline by 19 percent per year, it’s important,” Lemley said. “When you look at that in terms of the long-term odds of being impoverished — if all we do is delay pregnancies until age 21 — we’d be making a lifetime difference for these young people.”
In addition to the findings on college enrollment and savings, researchers found that each additional year a youth spent in extended foster care was related to the following benefits:
- Increased the probability that youth completed a high school credential by about 8 percent
- Increased the number of quarters that youth were employed between their 18th and 21st birthdays
- Improved the odds that youth described a professional as a source of social support
- Decreased the amount of money youth received in need-based public food assistance by more than $700 per year
- Reduced the odds of experiencing an additional economic hardship between the ages of 17 and 21 by about 12 percent
- Shrank the odds of being homeless or “couch-surfing” between the ages of 17 and 21 by about 28 percent
- Decreased the odds that youth became pregnant or impregnated a female between the ages of 17 and 21 by about 28 percent
- Lessened the odds that youth had been arrested between the ages of 17 and 21 by about 41 percent and decreased the odds that youth had been convicted of a crime during the same period by about 40 percent.
Despite these numbers, Courtney struck a cautionary tone when talking about the study.
“We shouldn’t declare victory and go home,” Courtney said in an interview with The Chronicle of Social Change. “Legislators and advocates sometimes think that changing policy, particularly through legislation, is going to solve a problem.”
Some of the statistical benefits experienced by California foster youth in extended care may not be the result of AB 12 alone. Courtney pointed out that some of the gains suggested by his analysis may be related to ongoing efforts in California to support the college aspirations of transition-age foster youth, both before and after the passage of AB 12.
Courtney’s report is part of a five-year longitudinal study examining the experiences of California transition-age foster youth in care and outcomes during the transition to adulthood for foster youth. The California Youth Transitions to Adulthood Study (CalYOUTH) attempts to answer a big question: whether AB 12 — which permits foster youth to remain in care until age 21 — has led to improved outcomes for transition-age foster youth in the state.
Earlier this year, Courtney and his team released findings for youth at age 21, based on interviews with a cohort of youth after they turned 21. The new report utilizes state administrative data along with youth interviews to provide a precise look at the positive impacts of staying in extended foster care after their 18th birthday.
AB 12 was passed in California after the federal Fostering Connections to Success and Increasing Adoptions Act of 2008, which offered states federal funds to help extend foster care up to age 21 for those youth who wished to stay in care. Since then, 26 states have established a federally funded program, and all but three states have some form of extended foster care.
According to the California Department of Social Services (CDSS), 82.4 percent of youth who turned 18 in the state’s foster care system elected to remain in foster care in the 2017-18 fiscal year. CDSS is also seeing some youth who initially chose not to stay in extended foster care coming back into the system.
The report from Chapin Hall researcher Courtney follows up on a massive data-gathering project around older foster youth released by the Annie E. Casey Foundation in November. The Casey report, which examined key data indicators for foster youth ages 14 to 21, suggested some less-encouraging data on transition-age foster youth, and prompts questions about how many youth are electing to remain in care after age 18.
In California, 84 percent of foster youth have achieved a high school degree or GED by age 21, compared with 76 percent of the national foster youth population. Also, more of California’s foster youth are employed at age 21 compared with their peers in foster care across the nation. However, a large share of teenage foster youth in California — 65 percent — exit the foster care system on their own, without a permanent home lined up. Nationally, that number is 51 percent.
Courtney called the implementation of extended foster care across California “still a work in progress.”
“The child welfare system has over a century of experience providing care and supervision to minors,” he said. “It has very little experience providing care and support and helping toward independence for young adults. For a case management model, we need to move in the direction of having child welfare workers … understand this developmental stage, this life course and who better understand adult-serving systems much more than your average caseworker, who has a caseload made up of mostly little kids.”