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- What key federal legislation helps support youth in foster care transitioning to adulthood?
- What is the current research on the characteristics, needs, and outcomes of young adults aging out of foster care?
- What conceptual framework can researchers apply to understand the transition to adulthood and to a typology of independent living programs?
Many youth aging out of foster care have a difficult time acquiring the skills and competencies they need to transition from adolescence to adulthood. Over the past three decades, policymakers have increased supports for these youth, but gaps remain in what the child welfare field knows about the types of interventions that can improve outcomes for young adults. This report supports the Administration for Children and Families’ (ACF) plans for “next-generation” evaluation activities under the John H. Chafee Foster Care Independence Program, as mandated by the 1999 legislation, by reviewing research and introducing a conceptual framework for understanding critical developmental assets youth need to transition to adulthood. The report then uses the conceptual framework to inform a typology of independent living programs.
This report intends to provide government and philanthropy, state and local program developers, and the research community with information about child welfare legislation, current research on youth aging out of foster care, and a typology of independent living programs. Key stakeholders can use this information when thinking about, designing, and planning programs that (1) focus on the developmental assets youth need for successful outcomes and (2) are well positioned to be evaluated for their effectiveness.
Key Findings and Highlights
We developed a conceptual framework that identifies key components of the transition from foster care to adulthood and a typology that classifies independent living services into 10 service categories.
Although youth development programs, including those endorsing risk-and-resilience perspectives, have shown some success in reducing risks such as poor social development and aggression, their effectiveness improving key self-sufficiency outcomes (e.g., educational attainment, employment, housing stability, and avoidance of economic hardship) has not been established.
The typology classifies independent living programs into 10 service categories:
- behavioral health
- permanency enhancement
- pregnancy prevention
- parenting support
- asset development
- multicomponent services
A preliminary assessment of potential targets for the next round of evaluations of Chafee-funded programs shows that these programs fall into three basic categories:
- Programs fully ready for an evaluation of their impacts.
- Programs not ready for evaluation presently that could be ready if given support developing logic models, assessing targeting and referral processes, and considering how to increase their reliance on evidence-based practices.
- Evidence-based programs serving other vulnerable populations that could also serve or are just beginning to serve youth in foster care.
This report summarizes federal legislation and the research literature on youth transitioning from foster care to adulthood. The authors also develop a conceptual framework of the transition to adulthood and a typology of independent living programs based on the empirical research.
The conceptual framework and the typology of independent living programs are intended to encourage key stakeholders, including government and philanthropy, state and local program developers, and the research community, to reflect on current and emerging programs and consider the following questions:
- What specific outcomes are the programs helping youth achieve?
- What developmental assets would the programs help youths acquire so that they are better prepared to achieve these outcomes?
- What current evidence, if any, suggests the program models are associated with positive outcomes?
- Which subgroups of youth are the programs targeting? Are the program models suitably designed for those populations?
Courtney, Mark, Michael Pergamit, Marla McDaniel, Erin McDonald, Lindsay Giesen, Nathanael Okpych, and Andrew Zinn (2017). Planning a Next-Generation Evaluation Agenda for the John H. Chafee Foster Care Independence Program, OPRE Report #2017-96, Washington, DC: Office of Planning, Research, and Evaluation, Administration for Children and Families, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services