Baltimore, MD – In a new report released by the Annie E. Casey Foundation, titled “Fostering Youth Transitions 2023,” the latest trends in foster care among older children in the United States are examined, revealing both positive developments and persistent achievement gaps. Over the past 15 years, the report shows a significant decrease in the number of teenagers in foster care, as well as a decline in the placement of young people in institutional settings like group homes.
The report places particular emphasis on educational attainment among youth in foster care, indicating that 79% of them earn a high school diploma or GED by the time they age out of the system at 21. However, this figure falls short compared to the 92% graduation rate among their peers in the general population.
A notable finding in the report is the better educational outcomes observed among those who participate in extended foster care programs. Many states offer this option for youths between 18 and 21, providing additional support during their transition to adulthood. Todd Lloyd, senior policy associate for the Annie E. Casey Foundation, encourages states to consider promoting extended foster care, stating, “We really encourage states to consider ways that they can encourage young people to remain in foster care after the age of 18 if they don’t have a permanent family.” Despite the potential benefits, the report reveals that the utilization of extended foster care after the age of 18 remains low nationwide.
According to data from 2021, only 22% of those in foster care on their 18th birthday remained in the system on their 19th birthday. However, Maryland stands out with 52% of foster youth still in care at age 19. This discrepancy highlights the need for increased attention to foster care services in different regions to ensure consistency and support for transitioning youth.
Although the overall number of teenagers in foster care has declined, the report reveals that agencies are still struggling to provide adequate services to help these young people successfully transition into adulthood. Transition services include educational financial assistance, vocational training, K-12 academic support, mentoring, and life skills training. The report indicates that few teens are receiving the federally funded services they are eligible for, as less than half of those eligible ever receive support, and less than a quarter actually receive any services in a given year.
While Maryland demonstrates above-average numbers of teens in foster care receiving educational financial assistance and room and board support, critical areas such as vocational training, life skills, mentoring, and K-12 academic support fall behind, with participation rates remaining in the single digits.
The report also highlights shifting reasons for teens entering the foster care system. In 2006, “behavior problems” accounted for 49% of cases, while in 2021, that number decreased to 30%. “Neglect” has become the most common reason for placing children in foster care, cited in 48% of cases in 2021. Todd Lloyd suggests that this shift indicates the potential for more families to stay together with increased state support. He notes, “The issues of neglect are often related to economic security… child welfare agencies can work with families to help them remediate those issues of economic challenge and provide the kind of concrete supports that they need to address those concerns.”
As the Annie E. Casey Foundation’s report sheds light on foster care trends among older children in the US, it calls for increased efforts to bridge the achievement gaps and provide comprehensive support systems for transitioning youth. By addressing the challenges faced by these young individuals and their families, states can work toward ensuring a brighter future for all those involved in the foster care system.