The number of foster youth in California who age out at 18 has plummeted in the past two years, suggesting that its federal partnership to expand foster care until 21 has had a significant impact.
The number of foster youth exiting care without a permanent placement declined 47 percent between 2012 and 2014, from 4,527 down to 2,395. In the same time period, the number of youths who remained in foster care after 18 jumped from 2,448 to 5,941.
“They are getting something they need and want” out of extended foster care, said Amy Lemley, policy director at the John Burton Foundation, speaking on a conference call late last week. “Is it perfect? No. But if it was bad, we would not see this growth.”
The decline in the number of aging-out youth is likely to turn into a sharp increase once the first groups of older foster youth start to turn 21.
“That number will be going right back up to 2000 levels,” Lemley said on the call, suggesting that other transitional options needed to be ready for the 21-year-olds who are ill-prepared for independence.
County child welfare agencies in California were already able to keep certain youths in foster care after their eighteenth birthday. Los Angeles County, for example, has routinely kept foster youth in care past 18.
AB 12 guaranteed every foster youth in care at 18 the right to remain until age 21, as long as they were working or pursuing an education. The law took effect in January of 2012, and it enabled the state to seek federal reimbursement for the older teens and young adults.
The California law forbids systems from using group homes as placements for the older youths, but had two new placement options at their disposal:
Supervised Independent Living Placements (SILP), in which youths received a monthly allowance to pay for a living arrangement that had been approved by a case worker.
Transitional Housing Program Plus-Foster Care (THPPFC), a more intensive option that provides a living space, life skills development and other supports to older youth in care.
SILPs quickly emerged as the predominant placement option for older foster youths, to the surprise of many child welfare advocates. Those arrangements make up 40 percent of all over-18 foster care placements; “by a factor of two the most prevalent option,” Lemley said.
Just three percent of older youths were in THPPFC placements in 2012 and 2013, as the state was slow to develop licensing standards and approve providers. As of January, the number of youth in THPPFC placements was 8 percent.
Placements with relatives accounted for 26 percent of all older youth placements in 2012; that figure has dropped to 11 percent.
The federal government has offered foster care reimbursement for youths over the age of 18 since 2008, when President George W. Bush signed the Fostering Connections to Success and Increasing Adoptions Act into law. So far, 18 states have received federal approval for expanded foster care.
John Kelly is the editor-in-chief of The Chronicle of Social Change