Transitional Age Youth

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Findings from the California Youth Transitions to Adulthood Study (CalYOUTH)

By Mark E. Courtney, Pajarita Charles, Nathanael J. Okpych, Laura Napolitano, Katherine Halsted 2014

The Fostering Connections to Success and Increasing Adoptions Act of 2008 amended Title IV-E to extend the age of Title IV-E eligibility from 18 to 21 for foster care youth. Under provisions of the law, states now have the option to extend care, but are not required to do so. A number of states have adopted legislation to extend care and others are considering doing so. California enacted the California Fostering Connections to Success Act in 2010 and began extending care on January 1, 2012. With the largest state foster care population in the U.S., it is arguably the most important early adopter of the new policy.

Research on the extension of foster care in California began with early implementation studies documenting the history of the legislation and the planning process for implementing California’s Fostering Connections to Success Act. Following the early implementation studies, the California Youth Transitions to Adulthood Study (CalYOUTH) was initiated in 2012.

Study Overview
CalYOUTH is an evaluation of the impact of the California Fostering Connections to Success Act on outcomes during the transition to adulthood for foster youth. CalYOUTH includes collection and analysis of information from three sources: 1) transition-age youth, 2) child welfare workers, and 3) government program data. The study, led by Mark Courtney and conducted in collaboration with the California Department of Social Services and California County Welfare Directors Association, is being carried out over a 5-year period from 2012-2017.

The overall study addresses three primary research questions:

  • Does extending foster care past age 18 influence youths’ outcomes during the transition to adulthood (e.g., education, employment, health, housing, parenting, and general well-being)?
  • What factors influence the types of support youth receive during the transition to adulthood in the context of extended foster care?
  • How do living arrangements and other services that result from extended foster care influence the relationship between extending care and youth outcomes?

To answer these questions, CalYOUTH is following youth (N = 727) ages 17 through 21 using in-person interviews. In addition, CalYOUTH conducted an on-line survey of 235 California child welfare workers to obtain their perceptions of key characteristics of the service delivery context of extended foster care. Finally, CalYOUTH completed a qualitative study of youths’ living arrangements including observations of multiple living settings and open-ended interviews with young adults and staff and caregivers in these settings.

Legislative History Report
This report traces the history of the California’s Fostering Connections to Success Act legislation from its introduction in the California State Assembly, through its passage and signing, and ultimately to its innovative and extensive implementation planning process. The report aims to document the California experience, highlighting its successes and challenges, so that other states may benefit, potentially smoothing the legislative and implementation processes there. Beyond telling the story of extended care, this report also focuses on two other issues. The first is the strong role played by a group of stakeholders (e.g., advocates, foundations, county administrators) in passing this bill and seeing it through implementation planning. We find that their central involvement was a result of their own desire to see the policy through to implementation, the limited capacity of state government agencies to implement such complex legislation, and the willingness of foundations to help fund implementation planning. The second is the degree to which research evidence was used in both the legislative and implementation planning phases. Our findings about use of evidence indicate that for research to be effective in shaping legislative decisions, it needs to be more timely and geared to policymakers’ concerns. In particular, research on specific state-level contexts is greatly valued. For legislation that concerns sympathetic populations, testimonial or discursive evidence can be just as effective with legislators as research evidence. Moreover, in times of budgetary constraint, research evidence about cost effectiveness may be as important as research evidence about program or policy effectiveness.

Implementation Report
This report examines the planning process for implementing California’s Fostering Connections to Success Act, as well as the new law’s early implementation. It is based on data collected from in-depth interviews with key informants who played a critical role in passage of the law, in implementation planning, or in early implementation at the county and state level and from focus groups with young people who stood to benefit directly from the legislation. Although extended foster care is likely to look different in different states, California’s experience offers many lessons from which other states might learn.

Youth Report
This report presents findings from the Baseline Youth Survey, providing the most comprehensive view to date of young people approaching the transition to adulthood from foster care in the wake of the federal Fostering Connections Act. Information gathered during interviews with 727 youths who were an average of 17 years old at the time, offers insight into the needs and aspirations of transition-age foster youth. Study findings can help inform efforts to improve policies and services for foster youths’ transitioning to adulthood.

Child Welfare Worker Report
This report presents findings from the Child Welfare Worker Survey, an on-line survey of 235 California child welfare workers and their perceptions of key characteristics of the service delivery context of extended foster care, including: the availability of transitional living services; coordination between the child welfare system and other service systems such as county courts; and youth attitudes toward extended care. This report provides a valuable snapshot of how youths’ caseworkers, central players in the implementation of extended foster care, perceive young people making the transition to adulthood out of care and the service context for that transition.

Qualitative Study Report
This report presents findings from a qualitative study of youths’ living arrangements in California. One of the most important ways that extended foster care is likely to influence the developmental context of youth making the transition to adulthood from foster care is through altering the range of state-supported living arrangements available to these young people. CalYOUTH conducted a qualitative examination of the contexts within which youth are experiencing extended foster care using short observations at multiple living settings, as well as open-ended interviews with young adults and staff/caregivers in these placements. Study findings illustrate the potential benefits of these new placement settings as well as the challenges of providing developmentally appropriate living arrangements for young adults in state care.