According to a report released in February 2008 by the National Association of Counties (NACo) foster youth who age out of care are more susceptible to elevated rates of homelessness, poor educational outcomes, low wages, unemployment, health issues, and incarceration. The report primarily cites the Midwest Evaluation of the Adult Functioning of Former Foster Youth Study (“Midwest Study”), conducted by the Chapin Hall Center for Children at the University of Chicago in 2007 as the basis for its reported findings. NACo describes the Midwest study as “the most comprehensive examination of youth leaving foster care.” The Midwest study examined the outcomes of 732 foster youth who aged out of care in Iowa, Illinois, and Wisconsin and describes numerous difficulties experienced by the young adults after leaving their care settings.
The NACo issue paper lists the most significant obstacles facing youth who age out of care as lack of support for education, housing, health care and employment. The report emphasizes the findings of the Midwest Study that foster youth approach the transition to adulthood with significant educational deficits, that young adults who age out of foster care are more than twice as likely not to have a high school diploma or a GED as their peers. They are 40% less likely to begin college and 14 times less likely to complete college than the general population.
This lack of education contributes to another huge issue for young people reaching the age of 18 in out-of-home placement – housing. Former foster youth have few supports to bridge the gap between the wages they earn and the cost of housing. As a result, young people aging out of the foster care system are becoming homeless at disconcerting rates. In the Midwest Study, more than 18 percent of those who aged out of care had been homeless at least twice, and more than half had been homeless one time or more since leaving care. A telling fact is that three in ten of the nation’s homeless adults have been in foster care at some point in their lifetime.