Using the National Youth in Transition Database Survey Results
Youth in foster care are 3 to 10 times more likely to experience homelessness than their peers not in the child welfare system. Those who experience homelessness report being homeless for three years on average, a full year longer than those without a history of foster care. Unfortunately, both youth experiencing homelessness and youth who have left foster care face many of the same challenges, such as early parenthood and not receiving consistent health care, as they move toward becoming self-sufficient adults.
To track how well states are serving young people currently and formerly in foster care and the services independent living programs provide, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services’ Administration for Children and Families established the National Youth in Transition Database (NYTD). This reporting system collects outcome and demographic information from NYTD surveys completed by youth currently and formerly in foster care who are served by state agencies that administer the Children’s Bureau’s John H. Chafee Foster Care Independence Program. States are required to administer the NYTD survey to cohorts of youth at ages 17, 19, and 21.
The NYTD survey provides data on how youth in foster care and young adults formerly in foster care are doing in six outcome areas: 1) financial self-sufficiency; 2) educational attainment; 3) connections with adults; 4) experiences with homelessness; 5) high-risk behaviors; and 6) access to health insurance. Runaway and homeless youth service providers can use the data to help inform transition planning and services offered, such as housing assistance and education, and to start conversations with local task forces and youth advisory boards about best practices to improve services and outcomes.
NYTD survey responses represent youth voices and their own understanding of their experiences, providing states and organizations with valuable insight on the needs of these populations. Service providers and others can request their state’s NYTD data by contacting the state’s independent living coordinator. Providers can use the data to identify areas where they are succeeding or need improvement. For example, according to the NYTD Data Brief published in November 2016, at age 17 the overwhelming majority of youth (93 percent) reported having at least one adult in their lives they could go to for advice and emotional support; 87 percent reported the same thing at age 21. This could suggest programs are doing a good job providing vulnerable youth with mentoring services, a critical component to helping these youth make a successful transition into adulthood.
A finding of concern in the NYTD Data Brief is the outcome measure on homelessness: 43 percent of youth in the first cohort who completed all three waves of the survey at ages 17, 19, and 21 reported experiencing homelessness at some point in their lives (either before or after foster care). This high rate suggests that many youth experience unique challenges that affect their housing stability as they transition out of foster care. Runaway and homeless youth service providers should consider establishing a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) with their local child welfare agency to examine the NYTD survey data and determine how they can tailor their services to help prevent homelessness among youth in foster care.
To learn more about the National Youth in Transition Database, visit https://www.acf.hhs.gov/cb/research-data-technology/reporting-systems/nytd.