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Foster Care Report Shows Fewer in System, But Achievement Gaps Remain

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Friday, May 12, 2023   

A new report covering foster care trends among older children in the U.S. shows some improvements but critical achievement gaps remain.

The Baltimore-based Annie E Casey Foundation's report 'Fostering Youth Transitions 2023 showed over the last 15 years, the number of teenagers in foster care has fallen by about half, and fewer young people are placed in institutional settings such as group homes.

Educational attainment was also highlighted with the report, showing 79% of youth in the foster care system earned a high school diploma or GED by the time they aged out of the system at 21, compared to 92% of their peers in the general population.

Many states offer extended foster care for youths between 18 and 21, and the report found better educational outcomes among those who use extended foster care.

Todd Lloyd, senior policy associate for the Annie E. Casey Foundation, said advocates are encouraging states to promote the practice.

"So we really encourage states to consider ways that they can encourage young people to remain in foster care after the age of 18 if they don't have a permanent family," Lloyd explained. "But we've seen nationally that the utilization of extended foster care after the age of 18 is actually very low."

The report data from 2021 showed only 22% of those in foster care on their 18th birthday remained in foster care on their 19th birthday. In Maryland, the number was far higher, with 52% still in foster care at age 19.

Despite the reduction in the overall number of teens in foster care in the U.S., the report found agencies were not better able to deliver services to help with the transition to adulthood to the smaller population. Transition services include educational financial assistance, vocational training, K-12 academic support, as well as mentoring and life skills training.

Lloyd added the report found few teens are receiving the federally funded services for which they are eligible.

"Even though there are fewer young people in foster care, less than half of young people who are eligible will ever receive services to support their transition to adulthood," Lloyd pointed out. "In a given year, less than a quarter who are eligible actually receive any services."

While Maryland saw above average numbers of teens in foster care receiving educational financial assistance and room and board support, critical areas such as vocational training, life skills, mentoring and K-12 academic support all saw percentages participating in the single digits.

The report found the reasons teens enter the foster care system are also changing. In 2006 "behavior problems" were cited in 49% of cases, while in 2021 it was down to 30%. "Neglect" is now the most common reason for placing children in the foster care system, cited in 48% of cases in 2021.

Lloyd contended it suggests with a greater application of state support, more families might be able to stay together.

"The issues of neglect are often related to economic security," Lloyd observed. "The hope is that child welfare agencies can work with families to help them remediate those issues of economic challenge and provide the kind of concrete supports that they need to address those concerns."

Disclosure: The Annie E. Casey Foundation contributes to our fund for reporting on Children's Issues, Education, Juvenile Justice, and Welfare Reform. If you would like to help support news in the public interest, click here.


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