Child Welfare System

Children who have experiences with the child welfare system are prone to running away and experiencing homelessness.1 This may result from high rates of youth who experience homelessness being placed in substitute care, such as foster care,2 and youth in the foster care system running away to avoid foster care, escape a specific foster care placement, or try to return home.3 In addition, youth who have aged out of the foster care system are at particularly high risk of becoming homeless.4

  • Research suggests that 21 to 53 percent of youth experiencing homelessness report being placed in foster care or an institutional setting.5
  • Estimates vary, but as many as a third of youth in foster care may have run away from care at some point. Risk of youth running away from foster care increases with age and other risk factors.6
  • A lack of “permanency” experienced by emancipated youth may result in a lack of independent living skills necessary to make the transition to self-sufficiency, and consequently to a lack of education and employment skills.7
  • A study of youth in foster care found that 22 percent had experienced homelessness at least one night within the first year after they left the foster care system, and five percent had experienced homelessness for the first time within a week after leaving.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/board funds to foster youth up to age 21 and follow-up services with youth aging out of foster care
  • Partnering with Housing and Urban Development to help foster care alumni qualify for housing assistance9

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

Resources

Homelessness Resource Center: Homeless Populations
The Homelessness Resource Center, supported by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA), is an interactive community of providers, consumers, policymakers, researchers, and public agencies at federal, state, and local levels. The Center 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

The Center includes a section focused specifically on youth.

Administration for Children and Families
The Administration for Children and Families 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.

Fostering Connections to Success and Increasing Adoptions Act
The president signed the Fostering Connections to Success and Increasing Adoptions Act of 2008 (P. L. 110-351) into law on October 7, 2008. Generally, the law

  • amends the Social Security Act to extend and expand adoption incentives through FY2013;
  • creates an option to provide kinship guardianship assistance payments;
  • creates an option to extend eligibility for title IV-E foster care, adoption assistance, and kinship guardianship payments to age 21;
  • de-links adoption assistance from Aid to Families with Dependent Children (AFDC) eligibility over time; and 
  • provides federally-recognized Indian Tribes, Tribal organizations, or Tribal consortia (Tribes) with the option to operate a title IV-E program, among many other provisions.

The law extends services for youth in foster care up to age 21 helping to ensure more successful transitions to adulthood. This includes transition planning and case review requirements and education and employment supports and supervised housing options for children over 18. The Departments of Education and Health and Human Services have been working together to support the implementation of this law.

References

1 Toro, Dworsky, & Fowler, 2007; U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, 2008
2 Toro, Dworsky, & Fowler, 2007
3 U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, 2008
4 U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, 2008
5 Toro, Dworsky, & Fowler, 2007
6 Courtney, Skyles, Miranda, Zinn, Howard, & George, 2005
7 U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, 2008
8 Pecora et al., 2003
9 Toro, Dworsky, & Fowler, 2007

Other Resources on this Topic

Collaboration Profiles

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).