This white paper outlines the research and context around current and continuing struggles facing people with experience in foster care. Our purpose in sharing this information is to describe young adults aging out of care, to share initiatives aimed at supporting transitions and early adulthood, and lastly, to offer recommendations for improving outcomes for people who have experienced foster care in Texas.
In the Texas foster care system, the primary permanency goal for all families is usually family reunification, unless there are underlying circumstances for another permanency goal. The child enters the system and is usually placed in either a foster home or residential treatment center, apart from extreme circumstances where more restrictive placements are sought. Children come into the child welfare system for circumstances that are out of their control and can come into the system at any age. Some of the hardest to place children are older youth and, in addition to their age, some also have higher needs.
Research and Data Contributions
Preparation for Adult Living (PAL)
When children in the foster care system turn 14, they are automatically enrolled into the Preparation for Adult Living (PAL) program and are assigned a PAL caseworker. The PAL program provides services and benefits to children in foster to prepare for adulthood. The role of the PAL worker is to inform youth of healthy practices and life skills to help them succeed were they to age out of the foster care system. Of the children eligible to receive PAL,38,612, only 6,840 were served in the program. Each region operates PAL differently, which could explain the gap in those who are eligible and served. Nonetheless, a unified effort to make sure all children are adequately served in PAL is warranted.
Extended Foster Care
Extended foster care allows the children to stay in the system until they are 21. By doing this, they are able to receive more benefits such as a caseworker, assistance with independent living, and a $1,000 transitional living stipend. The guidelines for extended foster care eligibility include, but are not limited to, the adult engaging in High school or GED classes, enrolling in college classes, working at least 80 hours a month, or participating in career trainings or programs.
Empirical data revealed in the CalYOUTH study, or what is known as the Midwest study4 on extended foster that young adults accessing benefits after care are offered the appropriate housing and formal and informal social supports needed to be successful adults. Even with formal supports, the study showed that young adults with experience in care still perform lower on wellbeing outcomes including education and health than their non-foster care peers. Yet, empirical evidence still supports increasing participation and improving quality of extended foster care as an avenue for empowering positive, healthy outcomes for young adults exiting care.
Shared Recommendations by People with Experience in Foster Care
What do people with experience in foster care suggest professionals do to improve the process, and therein, possibly improve the system for aging out youth? Findings from a recent national research study conducted and published by a person with experience in foster care, Sixto Cancel, documented how people with experience in foster care are healing and dealing with trauma that led to their involvement in care and the trauma that stemmed from their experience in care.
Other Research-Based Recommendations
The recommendations below address how new collaborations between state agencies, coalitions, and organizations can support young adults transitioning out of foster care.
Community- Based Care can play an integral role in improving outcomes from young adults aging out of care. Services in CBC are designed to serve the young adults near their family and school of origin to keep them close to home and close to their social networks. There is potential for youth to no longer feel like one person in a large system and instead be a part of a system with resources created especially for their needs. Social capital could increase in CBC systems where youth and young adults foster a sense of community and build positive, long lasting relationships with other professionals and peers as a result of those services. In a CBC system, we can:
1. Expand local capacity to serve more adults in SIL programs and find more permanent placements for older youth.
2. Help young adults build and sustain meaningful relationships after they age out of care.
3. DFPS can contract directly with providers and transfer the aftercare case management services to SSCC’s so youth have one organization with whom they rely on for a continuum of care.
Considering the challenging nature of aging out of foster care, TACFS and Education Reach for Texans will continue to work with our member organizations across the state to improve outcomes for young adults transitioning out of care. We believe the recommendations listed in this paper are actionable steps communities can take to support young adults. Although our goal is to see that no young adult ages out of foster care, we understand that finding appropriate placements and time challenge this goal. However, we use the recommendations from this paper as a large step forward to tighten support around young adults who are aging out of foster care with little guidance and direction.
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