Primary Sources: Smoothing the Rough Road to Adulthood

Photograph of a road.

The transition to adulthood and personal independence can be challenging even for youth with supportive families and a financial safety net. Three recently released studies focus on the specific needs of foster-care youth, homeless teens and high school dropouts.

In the most recent installment of “Midwest Evaluation of the Adult Functioning of Former Foster Youth (Midwest Study),” an ongoing effort to track youth that “age out” of foster care, researchers at Chapin Hall note the following:

  • Only one-quarter of these young people reported feeling very prepared to be self-sufficient when they exited foster care.
  • More than two-thirds of the young adults lived in at least three different places after exiting foster care, and 24 percent had been homeless at some point.
  • Forty-two percent of the young men and 20 percent of the young women admitted to being arrested after they left care.

Despite the hardships these youth face, the authors found that they were generally optimistic about the future and had high educational aspirations. What’s more, they maintained a positive attitude about the child welfare system and intended to turn to the system for help in the future. The authors concluded that the young people’s positive attitudes “provide a good foundation for service providers hoping to support them through the transition to adulthood.”

In “Supporting Homeless Youth During the Transition to Adulthood” (abstract), published in the April edition of The Prevention Researcher, Amy Dworsky profiles three independent living programs focused on helping youth in transition, and comes to the conclusion that many homeless youth still lack basic life skills like budgeting, meal preparation, time management, hygiene, running a household, conflict resolution and effective communication. She recommends that youth-serving professionals conduct formal evaluations to determine the best way to improve their services, as well as partner with transitional housing programs to provide youth with life-skills training, opportunities for education and workforce development, access to physical and mental health care services, and relationships with caring and trusted adults.

In the Spring 2010 edition of The Future of Children, Dan Bloom reviews the results of rigorous evaluations of 11 programs that were designed to give high school dropouts a second chance at educational success. In “Programs and Policies to Assist High School Dropouts in the Transition to Adulthood,” Bloom found little conclusive evidence that the programs made a lasting difference in the lives of the young people they served. He provides a host of recommendations for future research and practice, including identifying and disseminating lessons on how best to reengage the most disconnected young people.

(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.)

Primary Sources is a summary of recent research on youth and families. Got a research topic you want to learn more about? E-mail us and we may feature it on our site.

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