Primary Sources: Why Are Foster Youth at High Risk of Homelessness?

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Photograph of young people.

"Housing experiences of former foster youth: How do they fare in comparison to other youth?" (abstract), Children and Youth Services Review, Vol. 33, No. 11, November 2011.

What it’s about: A number of studies have documented the fact that former foster youth often don't have a stable place to live. This article asks whether that housing insecurity is related to young people's history in foster care or to other risk factors, such as poverty, drug use and teen parenthood.

Why read it: When youth don't have stable housing, they can get sick, become depressed or develop emotional problems that make it difficult for them to function well as adults. Having safe, secure housing makes it easier for youth nearing adulthood to finish school or hold down a job. By understanding the reasons behind housing insecurity, youth-serving organizations may be able to develop more targeted programs that better ease former foster youth into adulthood.

Biggest takeaways for youth workers: Yes, according to this study, having been in foster care--at any point in their lives--affects young people's housing situation for the worse, even when other factors are taken into consideration. The study found that youth who were involved in the foster care system experienced higher rates of homelessness, had less stable housing, lived in worse neighborhoods and relied more on public housing assistance than similar youth who hadn’t been in foster care. Based on their findings, the authors make several recommendations:

  • Programs that work to get former foster youth into college may want to encourage them to go to residential colleges. Youth could benefit from the secure and emotionally supportive environment of the college dorm.
  • Programs should help youth build connections with supportive adults. Foster youth are typically pushed toward complete autonomy at a time when non-foster youth are able to rely on the caring, older adults in their lives.

Additional reference: "Ensuring Youth Transitioning From Care Are Connected by 25: Lessons Learned from the Foster Care Work Group," by the Finance Project, highlights the steps some states are taking to support foster youth as they enter adulthood.

(Publications discussed here do not necessarily reflect the views of NCFY, FYSB or the Administration for Children and Families. Go to the NCFY literature database for abstracts of these and other publications.)

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