In November, the Annie E. Casey Foundation released Fostering Youth Transitions, an issue brief detailing data on the experiences of transition age youth, or youth in foster care who are close to or in the process of transitioning out of the child welfare system. The transition from adolescence to adulthood is a pivotal developmental stage as young people learn the skills needed to be healthy and productive adults, and that transition can be complicated for youth who are leaving foster care without a permanent family.

The data casts a troubling spotlight on the experiences of older youth in foster care and the need for policies and services that will improve the outcomes of this often-overlooked population. Nationally, data shows that transition age youth experience greater rates of unemployment and homelessness than their peers who were not in foster care. And in Kentucky, those trends have held consistent among youth in foster care ages 17 and older.

The brief shows that youths’ experiences while in foster care are just as significant and impactful to their long-term well-being as the experiences that led to their initial placement in care. These experiences can include the number of times youths are removed from their homes and placed in foster care or moved from one foster placement to another. Statewide, 38% of youth in foster care have been removed from their homes two or more times and 48% have switched placements three or more times.

Nationally and statewide, disparities within the child welfare system are evident, with African American and multi-racial youth being over-represented.  At best, theories and research about such disparities are inconclusive as multiple factors influence every child’s experiences differently. Research has shown that higher rates of poverty, historical racial bias and discrimination, a lack of resources available to communities of color, and geography may all contribute to the over-representation of youth of color in foster care. What’s important to remember is that abuse and neglect and their risk factors can and do occur across all racial, socioeconomic, cultural, and religious backgrounds.

In Kentucky, African Americans make up 10% of the general population and individuals identifying as having more than one race make up just 3%. However, 14% of Kentucky’s foster care population is African American and 6% identify as having more than one race. Youths identifying with more than one race are also the most likely to transition out of the foster care system without a permanent living situation, at 68%, compared to 60% of African Americans and 57% of White youths.

Kentucky’s data on transitional age youth reinforces the critical need for supportive services. Here are a few areas of significance:

  • 80% graduate from high school or earned their GED by the age of 21, exceeding the national average, and 64% secure stable housing.
  • Employment rates were lower than the national average, with only 33% of Kentucky’s youth formerly in foster care obtaining full- or part-time employment by the age of 21.
  • Nearly 60% of all transition age youth find permanency with a parent, relative, or adopted family.

A comprehensive understanding of the experiences of young people transitioning out of foster care is critical to strengthening protective factors, ensuring appropriate referrals to services for transition age youth in foster care, and informing policies needed to support this population’s transition into adulthood. One thing on the horizon for Kentucky that the Cabinet for Health and Family Services is looking at is early implementation of the federal Family First Preservation Services Act. The state will have the opportunity to utilize federal funds to provide supports and services to young adults transitioning out of foster care, including housing, counseling, employment, and education. Learn more about Family First here.