Primary Sources: What Puts Some Former Foster Youth at Risk of Becoming Homeless?

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Photograph of a young man.

“Homelessness During the Transition from Foster Care to Adulthood” (abstract).  American Journal of Public Health, Vol. 103, No. S2 (December 2013).

What it’s about: Researchers Amy Dworsky, Laura Napolitano and Mark Courtney wanted to build on Dworsky and Courtney’s earlier research about what puts some foster youth at higher risk than others for experiencing homelessness after they leave the child welfare system. Their analysis used data from the Midwest Evaluation of the Adult Functioning of Former Foster Youth, which followed a group of youth from Iowa, Wisconsin and Illinois from 2002 to 2012. During this period the youth were between the ages of 16 and 26.

Why read it: Young people who have been in foster care are 3 to 10 times more likely than their peers to experience homelessness. This research aims to pinpoint what makes some foster youth more at risk of becoming homeless than others. Based on their findings, the researchers recommend ways we might prevent homelessness among foster youth transitioning to independence.

Biggest takeaways for family and youth workers: The researchers estimate that 31 to 46 percent of the youth in their study had experienced homelessness at some point. Like previous studies, this one found that youth were more at risk of homelessness if they had run away while in foster care, had gone through frequent changes in placement, or had suffered from mental health problems. Youth who had been physically abused as children were more likely to become homeless than youth who had not. And boys were more likely than girls.

The researchers made four recommendations for how child welfare agencies can reduce homelessness during the transition from foster care to adulthood:

  1. During transition planning for youth aging out of foster care, pay special attention to the needs of youth who had frequent placements, were abused, or have mental health problems.
  2. Help youth save money while they are still in foster care, so they can afford to live on their own after they leave.
  3. Strengthen family ties, as the study found tentative evidence that close relationships with family members reduced the relative likelihood of a youth becoming homeless.
  4. Extend foster care to a young person’s 21st birthday, in states where this is not already the case.

Additional references: A full report on the Midwest Evaluation of the Adult Functioning of Former Foster Youth is available from Chapin Hall, a research and policy center at the University of Chicago.

(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 this and other publications.)

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