Other Youth Topics


  1. Youth Topics
  2. Homelessness and Housing Instability
  3. Child Welfare System

Child Welfare System

Children who have experiences with the child welfare system face multiple factors that increase their risk of experiencing homelessness, including age, the number of foster care placements, a history of running away from placements, and time spent in a group home or an institution setting.1 Many youth experiencing homelessness who have been in foster care consider their experience in the foster system as the beginning of their homelessness.2

  • Research suggests that 31 percent to 46 percent of youth exiting foster care experience homelessness by age 26.3
  • Young people with a history of foster care, on average, experience homelessness for a longer time compared with their peers with no foster care history (27.5 months vs. 19.3 months).4
  • Analysis of the Adoption and Foster Care Analysis and Reporting System dataset found young people who were older, female, African American, had behavior issues, or a diagnosed disability were more likely to run away from foster care placements.5
  • Among youth experiencing homelessness, those that had been in foster care were more likely to have spent time in juvenile detention, jail, or prison; more likely to identify as LGBTQI+; less likely to be in school or employed; and more likely to be receiving government assistance such as Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program.6
  • In 2023, data from the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children estimated that of those who had run away from the care of child welfare, about 19 percent were likely victims of sex trafficking.7
  • Data from the National Youth in Transition Database, which collects information about the housing outcomes of youth who have aged out of foster care, illustrates an interconnected relationship between homelessness and readiness indicators. Young people who demonstrated indicators of readiness—a high school diploma/GED, in addition to being enrolled in school or employed at age 21—were less likely to be homeless than those without these indicators.8

Prevention efforts may include the following:

  • State independent living programs that prepare youth to transition to adulthood;
  • Services to promote education, employment, life skills training, health education, case management, and mentoring;
  • Providing room/boarding funds to foster youth up to age 21 and follow-up services with youth aging out of foster care; and
  • Partnering with housing and homelessness assistance providers to help foster care alumni qualify for housing assistance (e.g., the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services released guidance to Runaway and Homeless Youth (RHY) grant recipients regarding the U.S. Department of Health and Human Development’s Foster Youth to Independence (FYI) program and how to ensure those eligible gain access to resources as well as providing information on how RHY resources may be used to provide additional support to young adults accessing the FYI program. Check out Leveraging HUDs Foster Youth to Independence Program (PDF, 14 pages) for additional guidance.

Learn more about the federal programs help youth transition from foster care without experiencing homelessness, and the partnerships between federal agencies.


Building Partnerships to Support Stable Housing for Child Welfare-Involved Families and Youth (PDF, 14 pages)
This bulletin outlines affordable housing and homelessness services and how child welfare professionals can collaborate with those systems to help families. Although directed primarily at child welfare professionals, the information in this bulletin also may help housing and homelessness services providers understand the unique needs and concerns of child welfare–involved youth and families and how their programs can help.

Notice of Final Rule on Safe and Appropriate Foster Care Placement Requirements
The Administration for Children and Families (ACF) published a finalized rule that requires agencies to ensure that placements are free from harassment, mistreatment, and abuse for children in foster care who identify as lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer or questioning, intersex (LGBTQI+), as well as children who are nonbinary or have nonconforming gender identity or expression.

Building Program Capacity to Support Youth at Risk of Homelessness (YARH): Phases I-III
To build the evidence base on what works to prevent homelessness for those who have been involved in the child welfare system, the Children’s Bureau funded a multiphase grant program, referred to as YARH, and it has two main goals: The first was to support communities in designing comprehensive service models intended to prevent homelessness among youth and young adults involved in the child welfare system. The second is to test one of these models to build the evidence base on promising strategies that support these youth.

Youth At-Risk of Homelessness: An Early Picture of Youth and Services — Descriptive Report (PDF, 49 pages)
This report describes services offered to youth and young adults with foster care histories through Colorado’s Pathways to Success comprehensive service model and comparison programs. It also describes the characteristics of service providers and of the youth and young adults enrolled in the services.

Determining Youth and Young Adult Eligibility for Services: Grantee Tools and Processes (PDF, 14 pages)
This brief describes the tools and processes that YARH grantees implemented to identify and screen youth and young adults who might be eligible to participate in their comprehensive service models. The brief should be of interest to individuals designing and implementing programs to serve youth and young adults in similar circumstances, including service providers, program administrators, program evaluators, and funders.

Homelessness Programs and Resources: SAMHSA
The Homeless and Housing Resource Center, supported by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA), shares state-of-the-art knowledge and promising practices to prevent and end homelessness through the following:

  • Training and technical assistance
  • Publications and materials
  • Online learning opportunities
  • Networking and collaboration

Supplemental Security Income/Social Security Disability Insurance (SSI/SSDI) Outreach, Access, and Recovery (SOAR): Spotlight on Applicants in Foster Care
This SAMHSA SOAR TA Center resource includes answers to frequently asked questions about obtaining SSI benefits for children and youth in foster care. It includes helpful information about Social Security Administration eligibility, the application process, and interviewing collateral sources.

Administration for Children and Families (ACF) 
The ACF website provides information on a wide range of information on programs, services, and policies on topics that include child welfare, youth experiencing homelessness, and runaway youth.


Other Resources on this Topic


Youth Briefs

How Individualized Education Program (IEP) Transition Planning Makes a Difference for Youth with Disabilities

Youth who receive special education services under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA 2004) and especially young adults of transition age, should be involved in planning for life after high school as early as possible and no later than age 16. Transition services should stem from the individual youth’s needs and strengths, ensuring that planning takes into account his or her interests, preferences, and desires for the future.

Youth Transitioning to Adulthood: How Holding Early Leadership Positions Can Make a Difference

Research links early leadership with increased self-efficacy and suggests that leadership can help youth to develop decision making and interpersonal skills that support successes in the workforce and adulthood. In addition, young leaders tend to be more involved in their communities, and have lower dropout rates than their peers. Youth leaders also show considerable benefits for their communities, providing valuable insight into the needs and interests of young people

How Trained Service Professionals and Self-Advocacy Makes a Difference for Youth with Mental Health, Substance Abuse, or Co-occurring Issues

Statistics reflecting the number of youth suffering from mental health, substance abuse, and co-occurring disorders highlight the necessity for schools, families, support staff, and communities to work together to develop targeted, coordinated, and comprehensive transition plans for young people with a history of mental health needs and/or substance abuse.

Young Adults Formerly in Foster Care: Challenges and Solutions

Nearly 30,000 youth aged out of foster care in Fiscal Year 2009, which represents nine percent of the young people involved in the foster care system that year. This transition can be challenging for youth, especially youth who have grown up in the child welfare system.

Coordinating Systems to Support Transition Age Youth with Mental Health Needs

Research has demonstrated that as many as one in five children/youth have a diagnosable mental health disorder. Read about how coordination between public service agencies can improve treatment for these youth.

Civic Engagement Strategies for Transition Age Youth

Civic engagement has the potential to empower young adults, increase their self-determination, and give them the skills and self-confidence they need to enter the workforce. Read about one youth’s experience in AmeriCorps National Civilian Community Corps (NCCC).

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