Most of the children who are placed in out-of-home care through the child welfare system exit to a “permanent” placement with a family member, or they are adopted or placed with a legal guardian. However, more than 20,000 young people each year “age out” of care, usually when they reach age 18. Most of these young people entered foster care in their teens after having spent years in difficult circumstances.
Outcomes for youth who age out of foster care are troubling. Various studies have found that they are less likely than their peers to complete high school, more likely to experience mental health problems and to become involved with the criminal justice system, and more likely to be unemployed, to live in poverty, and to experience homelessness. Of course, these poor outcomes are not necessarily the result of the time these young people spent in care.
Since 1985, the federal government has provided funding to states for independent living services for older foster youth. This program was expanded with the passage of the Foster Care Independence Act of 1999 (FCIA), which created the Chafee Program. In addition to providing more federal funding, the FCIA allows states to use federal funds for room and board, to extend services and Medicaid coverage to former foster youth up to age 21, and to provide education and training vouchers to youth. Although the Chafee Program was a major step forward, the eligibility criteria for Chafee-funded services vary by state. In many states, a significant proportion of youth aging out of care do not qualify for the services, leaving them with very limited assistance. In 2008, Congress passed and President Bush signed the Fostering Connections to Success and Increasing Adoptions Act, which provides federal matching funds for states to support children in foster care until age 21. States are currently considering how to implement the act and what kinds of services to offer transition-age youth.
The Youth Villages Transitional Living Evaluation is testing whether the Transitional Living program, operated by the social service organization Youth Villages, makes a difference in the lives of young people with histories of foster care or juvenile justice custody. The program, which was renamed “YVLifeSet” in April 2015, is intended to help these young people make a successful transition to adulthood by providing intensive, individualized, and clinically focused case management, support, and counseling.
Additional Project Details
Agenda, Scope, and Goals
Founded in 1986, Youth Villages operates a variety of programs for children with emotional and behavioral health issues and their families. Based in Memphis, Tennessee, the organization now serves 12,000 children each year in 10 states and the District of Columbia.
Youth Villages Transitional Living Program, which was the focus of this evaluation, provides about nine months of intensive counseling and support to youth who age out of state custody, generally at age 18. Earlier studies of foster care transition services have not found significant impacts on key outcomes, such as completing a high school diploma or GED or maintaining employment. Results from a random assignment evaluation of the Transitional Living Program would have significant implications for public policy and practice nationwide.
Design, Sites, and Data Sources
The Youth Villages Transitional Living evaluation is using a rigorous random assignment design to measure what difference the program makes. Youth 18 years and older who spent one year in the Tennessee foster care system after age 14, or one day after age 17, and agree to participate in the study are assigned, at random, to a group that has access to Youth Villages Transitional Living services or to a group that has access to whatever transitional services are available in the community.
The MDRC team will follow both groups for at least one year using data from a follow-up survey administered to both groups and up to three years using various administrative records data sources, such as unemployment insurance earnings, public assistance records, and criminal justice records to measure housing, employment, and other outcomes. Because the random assignment process ensures that the two groups are comparable at the start of the study, any significant differences that emerge over time can be attributed to the Transitional Living program.