Planning for Future Evaluations of Independent Living Programs for Youth in Foster Care

The following is cross-posted from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Administration for Children & Families (ACF) The Family Room Blog. See the original post here.

Evaluations of Independent Living Programs for Youth in Foster Care By Maria Woolverton, Senior Social Science Research Analyst, Office of Planning, Research and Evaluation

How can the foster care system help facilitate youths’ successful transition to adulthood? We explored this question as we began to plan new evaluation activities under the Chafee Foster Care Independence Program.

Our recent review of the issue describes the developmental assets youth need for success in adulthood and ways the foster care system can help facilitate their preparation. The review also identified 10 different categories of independent living programs for youth transitioning out of foster care and found that there is little experimental research on these programs. So we have much to learn about what types of impacts these programs may have on youth.

Three new briefs highlight three types of programs as they relate to youth in or transitioning out of foster care: education, financial literacy and asset-building, and employment programs. Primary findings include:

  • Education Programs
    • Students in foster care tend to be at an educational disadvantage. When youth enter foster care, they are more likely to be old for their grade level and to perform more poorly on standardized assessments than other students their age.
    • To date, there is little evidence about education-focused programs that target youth in foster care, and the best available knowledge comes from evaluations of programs implemented with other populations.
  • Financial Literacy and Asset Building Programs
    • As youth transition out of foster care, they tend to have a lack of financial support from their family, a lack of savings, and limited exposure to financial stability and prudent financial behaviors.
    • There is little evidence of the effectiveness of financial literacy programs in general, and the evidence is even more limited on the effectiveness of both financial literacy and asset-building programs for youth, including youth in foster care. Some studies suggest positive effects for individual development accounts (IDAs), which are the most common type of matched-saving programs.
  • Employment Programs
    • Youth who age out of foster care have less stable employment and lower earnings than youth in the general population, and many of these trends persist into early adulthood.
    • The literature on employment programs specifically for youth in foster care is limited. Only one local program serving youth aging out of foster care has been rigorously evaluated, and it showed no positive effects on employment or other key outcomes.

Each brief concludes with considerations for the field when moving toward the next generation of evaluations of independent living programs. Taken together, these briefs demonstrate that across all types of programs, we must consider the unique needs and circumstances of youth in foster care, as well as how to tailor and target the programs to achieve positive impacts.