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Challenges in the Transition to Adulthood for Youth in Foster Care, Juvenile Justice, and Special Education

October 2004, Issue 15
Challenges in the Transition to Adulthood for Youth in Foster
Care, Juvenile Justice, and Special Education
E. Michael Foster and Elizabeth J. Gifford
Youth face many changes and challenges as they move into adulthood, and for those who have been involved in
various social welfare systems, these changes can be even more profound. Roughly 20,000 youth in a given year age
out of foster care and are on their own, often with limited family ties. Nearly 38,000 youth aged 17–20 were in
residential placement for juvenile offenses in 1997, and a large proportion of those face a release plan with
diminishing amounts of supervision after a stretch of highly structured living. Approximately 375,000 students left
special education in the 2000–2001 school year, often without a high school degree, to face adult challenges without
a familiar support system. To compound the difficulties, the youth often have learning disabilities, limited life skills,
and health, emotional, and behavioral problems that can exacerbate an already challenging transition.
E. Michael Foster and Elizabeth J. Gifford, in their chapter in On the Frontier of Adulthood, examine how youth in
foster care, the juvenile justice system, and special education fare over time given the special challenges they face,
paying particular attention to the effectiveness of programs designed to support these youth during their transition.
The Path from Services to Independence
Family resources, both financial and emotional, smooth the transition to adulthood for youth. Teens in foster care,
juvenile justice, and special education, however, often come from families whose economic resources are limited,
and in some cases, whose family relationships have degraded. As noted above, they are also challenged by a variety
of physical and mental health issues. As a result, many of these youth continue to fare poorly as they enter
adulthood. More than one-half of youth leaving the juvenile justice system and between 37% and 46% of youth
leaving foster care had not finished high school. Rates of joblessness were high for youth exiting foster care (14–
51%), juvenile justice (31%), and special education (19–36%). Approximately one-third of the youth leaving foster
care were receiving cash assistance two years after leaving.
Support Services and Programs for Special Populations
Services and special programs have been developed to better aid these populations during this transition. Youth
leaving foster care, for example, can enter an Independent Living Program until age 21. The federally funded
program provides educational opportunities, counseling, support services, training in daily living skills, outreach,
and a range of other services, such as family planning and parenting classes.
A. Dworsky and Mark Courtney, Self-sufficiency of Former Foster Youth in Wisconsin: Analysis of Unemployment Insurance Wage Data and
Public Assistance Data. Washington, DC: Office of the Assistant Secretary of Planning and Evaluation, U.S. Department of Health and
Human Services, 2001. Robert Goerge et al., Employment Outcomes for Youth Aging Out of Foster Care. Chicago: Chapin Hall Center for
Children, 2002. R. Cook, A National Evaluation of Title IV-E Foster Care Independent Living Programs for Youth: Final Report. Vols.1 & 2.
Rockville, MD: Westat, Inc., 1991
Youth leaving residential placement within the juvenile justice system can access a range of parole-based or
noncustodial aftercare programs. Services can include job training, counseling, or tutoring and typically reflect goals
that communities identify as important (such as reductions in recidivism or substance use). Some programs target
youth most likely to be incarcerated again, with tailored services and supervision designed to meet individual needs.
Youth who received special education services in school begin receiving some form of transition services at age 14,
ranging from helping the student set a course of study (e.g., vocational training) that will aid them as they enter the
workforce, to training in daily living skills, employment preparation, and community living. Services can be on-site
or at locations away from the school.
The effectiveness of many of these services is yet undetermined. Little research has been done, and those studies
that have been undertaken often suffer major limitations. The most reliable evaluations have been conducted on
services provided to youth in the juvenile justice system, and for the most part, they show few if any benefits. (It
should be noted that the lack of any significant benefits may stem from small sample sizes and attrition.) The
handful of fairly rigorous studies on foster care and special education services, in contrast, tend to show
improvements in employment and education.
Again, however, most of the research remains limited by a number of
methodological issues.
Several factors contribute to the dearth of understanding of these programs. Existing data sources, for example, are
often inadequate for examining special populations. Large surveys often omit institutionalized populations, and
when data are collected, they may be limited by the tendency to underreport involvement with the police or other
events that carry stigma. Unfortunately, developing new data sources is particularly difficult and expensive for these
special populations. Even with adequate funding, assembling a research team necessarily composed of service
providers, policymakers, and researchers can be difficult.
Policy Implications
Youth leaving child welfare services are an especially vulnerable group of young adults. Although programs and
services are available to aid them in their quest for independence, there is considerable room for improvement.
Many of the services offered are unnecessarily inflexible because they are still largely defined by age, rather than by
an individual’s need for services. Further, none of the programs equip families to support youth during this period.
As other chapters in On the Frontier of Adulthood make clear, families are a key support to their children, and the
assumption that youth live “independently” in early adulthood is outdated. Finally, many of these youth are
simultaneously involved in more than one system, yet the services that support them are rarely interconnected. A
fragmented view of delinquency, education, and family circumstances is likely to offer an incomplete view of the
youth’s needs as he or she enters adulthood.
The costs of these services are substantial, but are they well spent? More research is needed to sufficiently answer
that question. One thing is certain, however. Regardless of their effectiveness, the cost of doing nothing is even
greater. When a child with emotional, physical, learning, or behavioral problems is adrift, the cost to society in
homelessness, crime, joblessness, and other outcomes is substantial and enduring. Programs have the potential to be
cost-effective, especially if they reflect a realistic vision of the life course, involve families appropriately, and target
those persons most in need and most likely to benefit from the services.
Based on Michael Foster and Elizabeth Gifford, “The Transition to Adulthood for Youth Leaving Public Systems:
Challenges to Policies and Research,” in On the Frontier of Adulthood: Theory, Research, and Public Policy,
edited by Richard A. Settersten, Jr., Frank F. Furstenberg, Jr., and Rubén G. Rumbaut. Chicago: University of
Chicago Press, forthcoming, 2004. E. Michael Foster is associate professor in the Department of Health Policy and
Administration, Pennsylvania State University.
R. Cook, A National Evaluation of Title IV-E Foster Care Independent Living Programs for Youth: Phase 1 Final Report (1990), and Phase 2
Final Report (1991). Volumes 1 and 2. Rockville, MD: Westat, Inc. M. Wagner and J. Blackorby, “Transition from High School to Work or
College: How Special Education Students Fare,” The Future of Children, 6(1)(1996): 103–120.
... In Ireland, Kelleher et al (2000) found that two years after leaving care 31.6% of the care leavers in their study were in prison. A number of other international sources also suggest that significant numbers of care leavers are at risk of involvement with the criminal justice system (Chamberlain et al. 2007;McFarlane 2011;Foster and Gifford 2004;Pritchard and Williams 2009;Hagan and McCarthy 1998;Taylor 2006). ...
... Unfortunately, none of the inmates in Wheatfield expressed an interest in participating in this research. The experience of Irish care leavers' interactions with the Irish criminal justice system unfortunately remains a topic in need of further research(Chamberlain et al. 2007;Foster and Gifford 2004;Hagan and McCarthy 1998;Kelleher et al. 2000;McFarlane 2011;Mendes and Moslehuddin 2007, 2009;Pritchard and Williams 2009;Taylor 2006).In total, contact was made with 65 aftercare workers who are either employed directly by, or who work in services funded by, the HSE/Tusla to provide aftercare services to care leavers. Contact was also made with 119 foster carers who are members of the Irish Foster Carers Association (IFCA). ...
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This thesis explores the outcomes experienced by young people leaving care in Ireland today, through a combination of a survey of 85 care leavers (with a comparator group of 142 university students) and in-depth interviews with a sample of care leavers (9) and of social care professionals (12). In a tentative comparison with the findings of Kelleher et al. (2000) it is suggested that the risk of homelessness remains an extremely serious problem among care leavers today and that unemployment rates are substantially worse, but that educational outcomes have improved considerably. Care leavers remain systematically disadvantaged in comparison to young people who have not been in care, including with regard to their 'social capital' (relationships that provide access to social and material resources and opportunities). Furthermore, social capital is related (in a statistically significant way) to other aspects of outcomes. Placement instability is associated with diminished social capital, while increased social capital is associated with better educational outcomes and less risk of homelessness. Qualitative interview data is consistent with the survey findings in supporting a link between the social capital available to care leavers and differences in their experiences of family (birth and foster), placements (residential and foster), friendship groups, educational participation and transitions from care. A number of challenges are identified for leaving and aftercare services, many related to inadequate adherence to existing national policy and procedures. Others have to do with resources, including implementing the Child Care (Amendment) Act 2015 without significant additional funding. The reformed legislation is deemed to be an improvement on the existing situation but far short of what is required more than 25 Page 3 of 327 years after the Act of 1991, meaning that aftercare services, and the young people they are meant to serve, are likely to continue to face challenges into the future.
... Because a high proportion of JJ youth has complicated living situations (e.g., child welfare involvement after allegations of abuse or neglect) [41], the term "safe adult" includes guardians (e.g., grandparent, aunt/uncle) as well as biological, adoptive, and foster parents. Safe adults (to whom youth will likely be released, determined by the presiding Judge and/or court system) agree to support the youth's transition back to the community by providing housing and carrying out postrelease plans (e.g., encouraging engagement in school and/or employment; helping navigate social and emotional challenges; transporting them to appointments). ...
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Background Juvenile justice (JJ) youth are at high risk of opioid and other substance use (SU), dysfunctional family/social relationships, and complex trauma. The purpose of the Leveraging Safe Adults (LeSA) Project is to examine the effectiveness of Trust-Based Relational Intervention® (TBRI®; leveraging family systems by providing emotional and instrumental guidance, support, and role modeling) in preventing opioid and other SU among youth after release from secure residential facilities. Methods An effectiveness-implementation Hybrid Type 1 design is used to test the effectiveness of TBRI for preventing non-medical use of opioids among JJ-youth (delayed-start at the site level; a randomized controlled trial at participant level) and to gain insight into facility-level barriers to TBRI implementation as part of JJ re-entry protocols. Recruitment includes two samples (effectiveness: 360 youth/caregiver dyads; implementation: 203 JJ staff) from nine sites in two states over 3 years. Participant eligibility includes 15 to 18-year-olds disposed to community supervision and receiving care in a secure JJ facility, without active suicide risk, and with one caregiver willing to participate. Effectiveness data come from (1) youth and caregiver self-report on background, SU, psychosocial functioning, and youth-caregiver relationships (Months 0, 3, 6, 12, and 18), youth monthly post-release check-ins, and caregiver report on youth psychological/behavioral symptoms, and (2) JJ facility records (e.g., recidivism, treatment utilization). Fidelity assessment includes post-session checklists and measures of TBRI strategy use. Collected four times over four years, implementation data include (1) JJ staff self-report on facility and staff characteristics, use of trauma-informed care and TBRI strategies, and (2) focus groups (line staff, leadership separately) on use of trauma-informed strategies, uptake of new interventions, and penetration, sustainment, and expansion of TBRI practices. Discussion The LeSA study is testing TBRI as a means to empower caregivers to help prevent opioid use and other SU among JJ-youth. TBRI’s multiple components offer an opportunity for caregivers to supplement and extend gains during residential care. If effective and implemented successfully, the LeSA protocol will help expand the application of TBRI with a wider audience and provide guidance for implementing multi-component interventions in complex systems spanning multiple contexts. Trial registration NCT04678960 ; registered November 11, 2020; .
... ILPs are key to this preparation. Foster and Gifford (2004) define ILPs as those interventions aimed at actively engaging young people in activities to acquire the skills to help them adjust positively into adult life. Mendes et al. (2011) state that, the most important aim for ILPs is to equip individuals with knowledge that will enable them to interact with themselves, others and their social environment in a healthy manner. ...
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Residential child and youth care centres typically provide programmes to develop the social and life skills of the children in care, on the assumption that these skills will equip them for adult life. However, there is little research to show whether and how these skills are transferred from the child care setting to young adulthood. This qualitative study investigates how a sample of male care-leavers from Girls and Boys Town South Africa transferred these social skills into independent living. Qualitative, semi-structured interviews were conducted with ten young men who had left care 2-5 years previously. Content analysis of the data was conducted. Findings indicate that participants could recall the skills they had learned in care and reflect on how they have applied these skills in their adult lives. In many cases, skills that were lost or abandoned were later recovered during times of crisis; and many participants adapted the skills to be more applicable in their adult world contexts. Teaching social and life skills, using rigorous and structured methods, appears to be a useful intervention with long-term benefits to young people after leaving care. However, the flexible and context-specific use of these skills should also be emphasised.
This chapter introduces and develops the advanced practice registered nurse's (APRN) role in caring for children who are at risk for, or already live in, out‐of‐home placements. One of the most common reasons for out‐of‐home placements is court involvement due to childhood abuse and neglect, also referred to as maltreatment. The chapter explains the potential complex physical, developmental, and mental healthcare needs of the children living in an out‐of‐home placement. Care of the foster child by a nurse practitioner should be guided by the American Academy of Pediatrics statement on the delivery of healthcare services to children in the foster care system. Intensive family preservation services (IFPS) is known by many names, including family‐based services and family preservation, but IFPS is the most current nomenclature used in the literature.
Many children have entered foster care centers due to different reasons, and they will experience new conditions after leaving these centers. This research explored the experiences of the postmarital life of women with a history of residence in foster care centers. It was conducted using a qualitative content analysis. The data were collected through semistructured interviews with 21 former foster care women and experts. Data analysis was performed using coding and classification of codes. The main extracted theme was “Life in Suspension.” The extracted codes were placed in 10 subcategories and three categories, including (a) spoiled identity, (b) social pressures, and (c) unstable marital life. The need for planning to reduce the various challenges of this group and increase their quality of life, both during and after foster care centers, is essential.
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Children leaving foster care are ill-prepared for life after foster care. They are left to face numerous challenges, such as unemployment, homelessness and lack of interpersonal relationships, which impact their young adult life. The transition into adulthood is a frightening process for any young person, but is most frightening for the child aging out of alternative care, such as foster care, especially if both of their parents are deceased. The South African legislation does make provision for independent living preparation for children aging out of foster care, however there are no guidelines or programmes in place to assist social workers to provide these services to foster children. This is a qualitative study aimed to explore the need for preparing children ageing out of foster care for independent living in South Africa. Semi-structured interviews were done with 12 participants. The findings indicated that the participants felt unprepared for life after foster care and that there is a need for programs to prepare youth for ageing out of foster care in South Africa.
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A large number of children worldwide are detained. Social workers are rendering services to these children with the aim of rehabilitating them and reducing recidivism. This study aimed to identify the challenges experienced by social welfare officers in the rehabilitation of child offenders in Zambia. It seemed most of the challenges were experienced because of a lack of resources relating to people power, capacity building, trained social workers and facilities. For Zambia to curb the challenges experienced, the custodians of the child justice programmes should strengthen their resources.
Full-text available
A large number of children worldwide are detained. Social workers are rendering services to these children with the aim of rehabilitating them and reducing recidivism. This study aimed to identify the challenges experienced by social welfare officers in the rehabilitation of child offenders in Zambia. It seemed most of the challenges were experienced because of a lack of resources relating to people power, capacity building, trained social workers and facilities. For Zambia to curb the challenges experienced, the custodians of the child justice programmes should strengthen their resources.
Technical Report
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Randall, G. E., Mulvale, G. M., Wakefield, P. A., Embrett, M. G., Barr, N. G., Miatello, A. M., Longo, C. J., Nguyen, T. D., Di Rezze, B. M., Vania, D. K., & McRae, S. A. (2016). Mapping the policy to practice landscape for youth mental health in Ontario: A report from the “youth to adult transitions in health care – the case of mental health services in Ontario” research team.
Introduction The Current State of the U.S. Child Welfare System Types of Out-of-Home Placements The Complex Needs of Children in Out-of-Home Placements Intensive Family Preservation Intensive Case Management by an Interdisciplinary Health Care Team The Interdisciplinary Health Care Team Intensive Case Management Case Exemplar Conclusion References
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