Too Many Kentucky Young People Exit Foster Care Without Permanent Families and Unprepared to Thrive on Their Own

Fostering Youth Transitions 2023 Urges Improvements to Extended Foster Care Transition

LOUISVILLE, KY – Permanent families and supportive adult connections, stable housing, and postsecondary education remain beyond the reach of too many young people with foster care experience, according to Fostering Youth Transitions 2023: State and National Data to Drive Foster Care Advocacy, a data brief released this week by the Annie E. Casey Foundation. While the share of Kentucky youth aged 14 years and older in foster care has decreased since 2006, that population still accounted for nearly one in three of the young people in care in 2021.

Fostering Youth Transitions 2023 examines data from all 50 states to shed light on the housing, economic, education, and permanence challenges faced by nearly 400,000 young adults who have experienced foster care nationally – and how child welfare systems support their transition to adulthood. The report provides trends and insights from 15 years of state and federal data for policymakers and child welfare leaders responsible for ensuring these young people’s success.

“The impact of foster care permeates well beyond childhood, and that reality makes the call for a deeper focus on supports and services for teens in care that more urgent. For youth in foster care — especially those leaving care without connections to a family — resources, such as housing, mentoring programs, and vocational training, can make the difference between facing consistent instability and thriving as they navigate the journey from adolescence to adulthood,” said Dr. Terry Brooks, executive director of Kentucky Youth Advocates.

Nationally, systems fail to find permanent families for more than half of older youth in foster care. In Kentucky, that rate is only slightly improved for youth aging out of foster care to live on their own. The state data profiles trace the experiences of these “transition-age” young people ages 14 to 21 who were in foster care between 2006 and 2021, including foster care episodes and placement types, those who received transition services and who extended their stay in foster care, and the outcomes of those young adults by age 21.

Kentucky Youth Advocates, along with its initiatives True Up Kentucky and Journey to Success Kentucky, are lifting up the data trends that can be celebrated as progress, as well as those that highlight the need for continued advocacy for policies and practices within the child welfare system that improve the experiences for Kentucky’s transition-age youth. In Kentucky, emerging trends make clear that advocates must rally to:

  • Address the overrepresentation of youth of color in the child welfare system. In Kentucky, Black youth make up 10% of the general population and individuals identifying as having more than one race make up just 4%. However, 12% of Kentucky’s foster care population is Black and 7% identify as having more than one race. Additionally, 46% of Black youth and 50% of youth with more than one race experienced four or more foster care placements during their time in foster care, compared to 35% of White youth.
  • Address the high rates of foster care cases attributed to child behavior problems by focusing on strengthening families and communities to reduce the need for child removals. In Kentucky, 46% of young people ages 14–21 entered foster care for child behavior problems, compared to 30% nationally.
  • Better equip and staff child welfare agencies to promote permanence and prioritize supported kinship arrangements for older youth. Between 2006 and 2021 in Kentucky, placement in family-based settings and kinship care increased (to 59% and 11%, respectively) while group and institutional placement has decreased (to 21%). However, as that is an area of progress, the Commonwealth sees half of all young people aged 16 years and older exiting foster care in Kentucky by aging out, exposing them to risks including homelessness and economic instability.
  • Improve extended foster care and delivery of transition services so young people receive what they need to thrive in adulthood, including stable housing, postsecondary education, and employment. Only 62% of Kentucky’s foster care population received a transitional service intended to prepare them to thrive when they leave foster care at any point between ages 14-21.
  • Address barriers that prevent young people with foster care histories from securing stable housing, employment, and education in adulthood. In 2021, for 21-year-olds who have experienced foster care in Kentucky, 63% reported having stable housing, 64% reported secure employment, and just 16% reported postsecondary enrollment. There is progress in the outcomes for these young adults with decreases in incarceration and in becoming young parents.

“Navigating adulthood is challenging enough as it is, but doing so alone is what many former foster youth are facing. Having just one person that can help you feel around in the dark can light up our world,” said Keisha Lyon, foster care alumni and advocate from Kentucky.

“By intentionally and authentically partnering with young adults formerly in foster care, we can build on progress to better equip communities to support older youth as they transition out of care, emphasize the importance of family connection, and improve outcomes of all young people with a foster care experience,” said Brooks. “Over the coming months, Kentucky Youth Advocates will be doing just that by bringing young people to the table for community conversations with Kentucky’s Congressional delegation, as well as lifting up their voices as we approach the 2023 gubernatorial election and in the 2024 state legislative session.”

Access the Fostering Youth Transitions 2023 brief here and the Kentucky data profile here.


Fostering Youth Transitions 2023: State and National Data to Drive Foster Care Advocacy is available at on May 8, 2023.

Kentucky Youth Advocates believes all children deserve to be safe, healthy, and secure. As THE independent voice for Kentucky’s children, we work to ensure policymakers create investments and policies that are good for children. Learn more at

The Annie E. Casey Foundation creates a brighter future for the nation’s children, youth and young adults by developing solutions to strengthen families, build paths to economic opportunity and transform struggling communities into safer and healthier places to live, work and grow. For more information, visit