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Older Youth in PA Foster Care Struggle to Succeed

About 33 percent of Pennsylvania's foster-care population is age 14 or older. (pxhere)
About 33 percent of Pennsylvania's foster-care population is age 14 or older. (pxhere)
November 14, 2018

HARRISBURG, Pa. - Pennsylvania could do more to prepare young people in foster care for adulthood - but Allegheny County is making real progress.

A new report from the Annie E. Casey Foundation showed that young people transitioning out of foster care lag behind their peers in several key areas. Marc Cherna, director of the Allegheny County Department of Human Services, said one way to help turn that around is to maintain foster care after age 18 when many youths would normally age out of the foster-care system.

"We actually take them to 21 and then, as part of Human Services, we have them voluntarily stay until 25," he said. "So, as a consequence, our numbers are getting much better in terms of kids' graduating high school, going on to further education, or employment and housing."

Statewide, however, 75 percent of foster youths in Pennsylvania get a high school diploma or GED by age 21. That's well below the 92 percent rate for the state's general population.

According to Leslie Gross, director of the Jim Casey Youth Opportunities Initiative, another key factor in helping foster youths succeed is establishing and maintaining relationships.

"This really means supporting biological families so that young people can stay at home," she said, "and if they have to be in care, policies that support young people as well as foster families who are willing to care for older youth."

She said the data show that young people of color in Pennsylvania are far more likely to be in foster care, to have multiple placements and to leave care without a permanent family.

Statewide, 47 percent of fostering youths are in group homes, well above the national average of 34 percent. Cherna said it's possible to do better.

"In Allegheny County," he said, "only 29 percent of our adolescents are in group homes; 71 percent are in family-based settings and, of that, over 70 percent are with relatives."

The report emphasized the need for state laws and policies that make finding permanent placements and family for teens in foster care an urgent priority.

The report is online at aecf.org.

Andrea Sears, Public News Service - PA