Foster Care Youth

Washington State Information and Studies                                                            Updated 9/18/2017

2008 Survey of Washington State Youth in Foster Care

Tarnai, John and Rose Krebill-Prather. (2008). Pullman: Social & Economic Sciences Research Center (SESRC), Washington State University. Data Report 08-038.

The main purpose of the survey is to obtain information that will help Children’s Administration (CA) improve services for adolescents in foster care (including placement with relatives).  Another purpose is to provide data to the Braam Oversight Panel to measure a benchmark established by the Panel under the Braam Settlement Agreement. 

In developing the survey design, questionnaire, and procedures, the SESRC consulted with the Braam Oversight Panel, the Children’s Administration (CA), and plaintiffs’ attorneys.  The telephone survey began on March 17, 2008 and continued through July 15, 2008. 

Contact was attempted with the entire population of 1,679 adolescents age 15 to 18 in foster care in Washington State in the custody of CA in 2007.  A total of 706 interviews were conducted by telephone. 

SESRC also conducted discussions with three groups of youth who were or had been in foster care to obtain additional information about their experiences.  Discussion groups were conducted in June 2008 with youth attending Independent Living programs in Seattle, Tri-Cities, and Yakima.  

2015 Foster Parent Survey: DSHS Foster Parents Speak  

Kohlenberg, Elizabeth and John Rogers. (2016). Olympia: Research and Data Analysis, Department of Social and Health Services. Report 11.227.

This report is the latest in the series of annual reports completed by Research and Data Analysis within the Washington State Department of Social and Health Services since 2007.  During the 2015 State Fiscal Year, the Research and Data Analysis Division (RDA) of the Department of Social and Health Services (DSHS) conducted 1,358 telephone interviews with randomly selected foster parents in the state of Washington.

The survey consisted of seven standardized questions and four open-ended questions, the responses to which were comprehensively coded and analyzed for this report. The survey responses described in this report paint a portrait of the complexities, successes, and struggles of Washington’s foster care system and the thousands of individuals who interact with it on a daily basis, from the perspective of foster parents. Individuals interacting with the entire system include: 

  • Children requiring foster care, who often have experienced trauma due to abuse, neglect or separation in their birth families.
  • Foster parents trying to meet the complex needs of those children. Biological parents who have had difficulty caring for their children. 
  • Social workers and other professionals who must balance heavy caseloads, find safe placements for youth, and meet the needs of foster and biological parents while satisfying all legal requirements.

Adolescent Neglect, Juvenile Delinquency and the Risk of Recidivism

Ryan, Joseph P., Abigail B. Williams, and Mark E. Courtney. (2013). Journal of Youth and Adolescence 42(3):454-65.

Victims of child abuse and neglect are at an increased risk of involvement with the juvenile justice and adult correctional systems. Yet, little is known about the continuation and trajectories of offending beyond initial contact with law enforcement. Neglect likely plays a critical role in continued offending as parental monitoring, parental rejection and family relationships are instrumental in explaining juvenile conduct problems.

This study sought to determine whether neglect is associated with recidivism for moderate and high risk juvenile offenders in Washington State. Statewide risk assessments and administrative records for child welfare, juvenile justice, and adult corrections were analyzed. The sample was diverse (24 % female, 13% African American, 8% Hispanic, 5% Native American) and included all moderate and high risk juvenile offenders screened by juvenile probation between 2004 and 2007 (n = 19,833).

Official records from child protection were used to identify juvenile offenders with a history of child neglect and to identify juvenile offenders with an ongoing case of neglect. Event history models were developed to estimate the risk of subsequent offending.

Adolescents with an ongoing case of neglect were significantly more likely to continue offending as compared with youth with no official history of neglect. These findings remain even after controlling for a wide range of family, peer, academic, mental health, and substance abuse covariates.

Interrupting trajectories of offending is a primary focus of juvenile justice. The findings of the current study indicate that ongoing dependency issues play a critical role in explaining the outcomes achieved for adolescents in juvenile justice settings. The implications for improved collaboration between child welfare and juvenile justice are discussed.

Children in Long-Term Foster Care in Washington: Preliminary Findings

Berliner, Lucy and David Fine. (2001). Olympia: Washington State Institute for Public Policy. Document Number:  01-02-3901

The 2000 Legislature directed the Washington State Institute for Public Policy (Institute) to compare placement decisions and funding methodologies for residential care services for children in long-term foster care and to examine the best practices in other states (EHB 2487).  This report addresses the state’s funding methodologies.  A separate report covers innovative practices and a literature review.

 The reported data are preliminary as they are based on half the anticipated sample.  In order to provide necessary protection to both children in foster care and their caregivers, researchers followed informed consent procedures that extended the study’s time frame.  A final report will be produced by the end of March 2001. [Note: No final report was located.] 

At present in Washington State, like most other states, placement decision-making is not based on matching children to services and settings that are specifically designed to meet their needs and ensure stability.  Decision-making about services and level of placement is instead driven by legal mandates, scarcity of placements, available community services, and cost.  Systematic assessment of children is not routine, and their psychosocial needs are not specifically weighed in decision-making. 

 Most foster care children in Washington State are in family foster homes that receive basic payments.  Less than 10 percent are in therapeutic care (treatment foster care or residential settings).  Preliminary results reveal that the children’s level of impairment in long-term placement generally reflects the level of care.  However, a majority of children, even those in family foster care, have levels of impairment that are likely to require extensive services or a therapeutic environment.  A third of parents providing enhanced family foster care rate children in their care as being severely impaired.  It is likely that some children in family foster care have levels of impairment that cannot be addressed with ordinary outpatient services and require significantly more services, treatment foster care, or residential care.  

 At present, failure in one setting is the most common trigger for a child to be moved to a higher level of care.  Placement failure, however, is costly.  Children’s functioning further deteriorates and more intensive services become necessary, caseworkers expend time dealing with placement crises and locating new placements, foster parents have negative experiences and may decide not to continue providing care, and staff time is spent recruiting more foster parents.  

The state could investigate creating a system of care that uses systematic assessment of problems and impairment as one factor in placement decision-making. This assessment process can help inform state decisions about the types of placement that are needed, and help ensure a sufficient supply of treatment foster homes and residential facilities for the minority of children in care who need them.

Policy Recommendations

Children’s Administration conducts or arranges for systematic assessments of children at key intervals.

  • Within 90 days
  • When higher rate payments are requested
  • When placement stability is threatened
  • Following two or more placement failures

Assessments use standardized measures and specifically address: 

  • Younger children: developmental status
  • Older children: level of emotional/behavioral problems, psychiatric diagnosis, functional impairment
  • Specific types of interventions that are proven effective for identified problems and specify the appropriate interventions for identified problems.
  • The level of care that is required (e.g., family foster care, enhanced family foster care, treatment foster care, residential care).

Placements should be designated as temporary when there are concerns about placement failure or when children have already failed:  this procedure would help ensure assessments can be carried out and planning for matching children to appropriate placements can occur.

Consideration is given to establishing homes and centers for assessment purposes.

Foster parents are fully informed about children’s history and emotional/behavioral problems before placement, especially in homes designed to be longer term. 

Prior to all but temporary placements, foster parents are specifically informed regarding expectations for their participation in treatment to alleviate children’s behavior problems.

When children (older than pre-school age) have behavioral disturbances that require constant supervision by foster parents or necessitate hiring additional staff in the home, immediate consideration is given to transferring children to treatment foster care or residential care.  In these situations, supervision alone will not improve children’s functioning.

Treatment foster care is a viable alternative to residential care for many behaviorally disturbed children if the family environment can provide high levels of supervision and a therapeutic setting in which behavioral intervention plans are implemented. 

Agencies contracting for Behavioral Rehabilitation Services should use standardized assessments to determine when children can safely be transferred to less intensive settings without compromising the gains in improved functioning.

Preliminary Legislative Recommendations

  • Provide support to augment the Children’s Administration pilot assessment projects.

The existing pilot sites have established mechanisms for completing standardized assessments of children. Caseworkers do not yet have the training or experience to use the results of these assessments to leverage appropriate services from the community and to make placement decisions.  

The next step is to use consultants familiar with interpretation of standardized measures and the types of proven interventions that work for particular problems.  These consultants can train supervisors and caseworkers to make effective use of assessment results.  Once supervisors and caseworkers acquire this knowledge, they can implement it statewide.

  • Increase the availability of Intensive Family Preservation Services that use proven methods to improve child and family functioning for children in foster care.

Placements that appear in jeopardy can sometimes be salvaged by acting before there is an acute crisis and adding intensive home-based services.  For the services to be effective, they must be based on systematic interventions that teach caregivers to apply specific behavior management strategies. 

  • Increase the availability of treatment foster care.

Some children currently in family foster care would be better served in treatment foster care.  Children with very significant functional impairments who need constant supervision are at high risk to fail in family foster care.  Their problems are much more likely to improve in a therapeutic environment. 

  • Evaluate whether an empirically proven approach to treatment foster care is more effective than current approaches in Washington State.

An approach called Multi-dimensional Treatment Foster Care has been proven effective in a rigorous evaluation of an Oregon program for teenagers with serious problems.  The program includes foster parents in the treatment team and teaches them to implement a structured individualized program in the home for each child, with program staff providing daily consultation and support to foster parents, skill-focused therapy to the children, and case management services to monitor progress and coordinate care.  Under this proposal, an agency providing treatment foster care would apply to participate in the study, and the staff and foster parents would receive training in the approach.  Outcomes for the children would be compared to outcomes of children housed in usual treatment foster care, thus testing whether the approach demonstrates advantages.

Educational Advocates for Foster Youth in Washington State: Program Background and Trends

Burley, M. (2011). Olympia: Washington State Institute for Public Policy. Document No. 1112-3903.

Since 2006, over 3,500 students in foster care have received assistance from an Educational Advocacy Coordinator.  The Educational Advocacy program was started in order to help foster youth maintain enrollment, connect to school services, and progress academically.  The program was first implemented in King County in 2001.  Treehouse, the non-profit agency that developed the program model, now manages the statewide program under contract with the Department of Social and Health Services (DSHS).  This includes training advocates, screening referrals, tracking outcomes, and developing instructional material for social workers, caregivers, and educators.

 The 2011 Legislature directed the Institute to “examine the child welfare and educational characteristics for foster youth who are served by educational advocates.”  During the 2009–10 school year, advocates spent nearly 8,200 hours assisting youth in foster care.  This report describes the background and characteristics of those students served by advocates.  We also examine placement mobility and school changes as well other educational outcomes (i.e. grade point average and graduation rate).  Our final evaluation report in October 2012 will address the overall effectiveness of the program.

Educational Outcomes of Foster Youth—Updated Benchmarks

Burley, M. (2013). Olympia: Washington State Institute for Public Policy. Document Number 13-06-3901.

This report outlines four outcome measures for tracking the educational progress of students in foster care.  Previous research conducted by the Institute has shown disparities in the educational outcomes of foster youth, including a higher dropout rate, lower scores on statewide standardized assessments, and lower high school graduation rates.

 Improvements in state educational data have resulted in the ability to track student progress since 2005.  We can now look at historical trends for many of these outcomes to determine how results have changed over time.  This report provides detailed definitions and results on four long-term measures related to the educational status of youth in foster care.  These measures include the following:

School retention: 

  • Nine out of ten (90%) foster youth re-enroll in the following school year (compared to 94% of non-foster youth).
  • Behind grade level: 6% of both foster and non-foster youth are behind their expected grade level.
  • Adjusted cohort graduation rate: The longitudinal (four-year) graduation rate for youth in foster care was between 35 and 55% (the rate for non-foster youth was between 70 and 75%).
  • Annual graduation rate: Measured on an annual basis, the graduation rate for foster youth was 48% compared to 72% for non-foster students.

Evaluation of the Foster Care Hub Home Model: Interim Report

Goodvin, R. & Miller, M. (2017). Olympia: Washington State Institute for Public Policy. Document Number 17-01-3201.

The hub home model is an approach to licensed foster care delivery where an experienced foster “hub home” provides activities and respite care for a group or “constellation” of foster homes.  The program has operated on a small scale in Washington State since 2004.

The hub home model is an approach to licensed foster care delivery where an experienced foster “hub home” provides activities and respite care  for a group or “constellation” of foster homes.  The program has operated on a small scale in Washington State since 2004.

The 2016 Washington State Legislature directed WSIPP to evaluate the hub home model by June 30, 2017. The study will include an outcome evaluation and a benefit-cost analysis to address the cost effectiveness of the hub home model in comparison to traditional foster care delivery

In this interim report, we briefly describe the hub home model, operated in Washington State by The Mockingbird Society, and outline WSIPP’s evaluation approach. 

In this interim report, we briefly describe the hub home model, operated in Washington State by The Mockingbird Society, and outline WSIPP’s evaluation approach.

Extending Foster Care to Age 21: Measuring Costs and Benefits in Washington State

Burley, Mason & Stephanie Lee (2010). Olympia: Washington State Institute for Public Policy. Document No. 10-01-3902.

The 2006 Legislature passed 2SHB 2002, establishing a three-year program for up to 50 youth per year to remain in foster care until their 21st birthday while attending a post high school academic or vocational program.  This program, commonly known as Foster Care to 21 (FC to 21), began enrollment in July 2006; this report describes an evaluation of outcomes for the program youth to date.  As of October 2009, 239 youth had applied to FC to 21 since the program’s inception.  Among eligible applicants, 184 foster youth enrolled in the program between 2006 and 2009.

FC to 21 Participants

Youth enrolled in FC to 21 were more likely than other youth exiting licensed foster homes to:

  • be female,
  • be in a dependency guardianship at age 18,
  • have a GPA of 3.0 or greater,
  • graduate from high school or receive a GED,
  • attend college in the year after graduation; and
  • be less likely to have:
    • run away from a placement since age 13 and
    • spent time in juvenile detention since age 13.

Of youth we could follow for at least one year, nearly half remained in FC to 21 for a full year or more.

Comparison with Non-Participants

The evaluation examined outcomes for FC to 21 participants compared with outcomes for a matched group of foster youth who graduated from high school before the FC to 21 program was available. Compared to similar foster youth, FC to 21 enrollees:

  • attended college for a longer period in the first two years after high school graduation,
  • received food stamps for fewer total months; and
  • were less likely to be arrested for a misdemeanor or felony crime.

Employment and birth outcomes were not significantly different between groups.

Benefit-Cost Findings

Based on observed increases in college attendance and reductions in crime and duration of food stamp receipt, we found the program to be cost-beneficial over the long-term, particularly for program participants.

The study did not find evidence that remaining in care is associated with the likelihood of future criminal involvement for men. However, during the transition to adulthood, the odds of arrest for women still in care are significantly lower than for women who are no longer in care. In addition, the odds of incarceration and conviction are marginally significantly lower for women who remain in care.

Foster Care Research Lab

Salazar, Amy. (2016). Pullman: Washington State University.

The Foster Care Research Lab is led by Dr. Amy Salazar. The projects in this lab focus on better understanding the circumstances of, and supporting positive outcomes of, youth who are experiencing, have experienced, or are at risk of experiencing foster care or child welfare system involvement. A large portion of this work involves developing, adapting, and testing interventions with the aim of increasing the number of evidence-based programs available for improving the outcomes of youth with foster care experience.

Current and recent research projects include:

  • Fostering Higher Education: Fostering Higher Education (FHE) is a postsecondary access and retention intervention for youth transitioning from foster care to adulthood. The first phase of this study was a two-year NIDA-funded R21 development project focused on designing FHE and testing its youth usability and practitioner feasibility. The FHE intervention contains elements of professional educational advocacy, substance abuse prevention, and mentoring. Future study phases will involve optimizing the intervention design and testing the efficacy of FHE in a randomized controlled trial.
  • RCT of Connecting foster parenting program and development of module for parenting LGBTQ youth in care: Connecting is an adaptation of the Staying Connected with Your Teen family-based substance use prevention program for use with foster families. Connecting is currently being tested in a randomized controlled trial at the University of Washington. In addition to being an investigator for the trial, Dr. Salazar is also developing and testing the usability of a curriculum module for improving the relationships between foster parents and their LGBTQ wards to add to the Connecting
  • Oregon Keeping Families Together: This study is an evaluation of an adaptation of the Communities That Care evidence-based community mobilization model to address community-level prevention of child maltreatment and child welfare system involvement and enhancement of child well-being in three Oregon communities.

Foster Care to College Partnership: Evaluation of Education Outcomes for Foster Youth

Burley, Mason. (2009). Olympia: Washington State Institute for Public Policy. Document No. 09-12-3901.

The Foster Care to College Partnership (FCTCP) was a three year foundation-funded initiative led by six different state and community agencies in Washington State. The aim of the FCTCP was to increase the high school graduation and college attendance rate for youth aging out of foster care.

Foster Care to College partners implemented an educational campaign (including a website, direct mail, and local seminars) to encourage youth to attend college and provide information and resources to foster students and their families.  In addition, FCTCP agencies established a statewide volunteer mentor program and summer college assistance workshop for foster youth.

 As part of the FCTCP initiative, the Institute was asked to evaluate the effectiveness of these activities. This report includes the results of this evaluation. We found that compared to similar youth in foster care, foster students who participated in FCTCP programs were significantly more likely to graduate from high school and attend the first year of college.  While high school completion and college enrollment rates for this population are still low, this research shows that these programs hold promise in improving the educational outcomes for youth in foster care.

Foster Youth Transitions to Independence: Options to Improve Program Efficiencies

Whiteman, S., R. Lieb, & M. Burley (2010). Olympia: Washington State Institute for Public Policy. Document No. 10-01-3901.

This report summarizes the services available to foster youth transitioning to independence in Washington State, discusses federal and state policy developments that could impact these services, reviews research evidence, and examines options for improving program efficiencies.

The 2009 Legislature directed the Washington State Institute for Public Policy to “evaluate the adequacy of and access to financial aid and independent living programs for youth in foster care.  The examination shall include opportunities to improve efficiencies within these programs.” In FY 2009, an estimated 5,907 youth were eligible for Independent Living/Transitional Living services (a “snapshot” estimate; see page 3).  We estimate that 3,365 youth accessed one or more programs for youth transitioning from foster care (nearly 60 percent of those eligible). Over $11 million was spent on programs and services during this year; this amount was a combination of federal, state, and private funds.  The state spent close to $5 million.  We estimate that on average approximately $3,300 was spent on youth transitioning from foster care. In terms of education, 5 percent of state funding was directed toward youth in K–12, whereas 28 percent was focused on pre-college and college financial aid. In the past decade, the number of programs focused on Washington foster youth transitioning to adulthood has grown significantly, from three to 15.  The 2009 legislation directing performance contracts for child welfare services offers an opportunity to consolidate services into the smallest number of contracts and emphasize key outcome measures. The Independent Youth Housing Program should be transferred from the Department of Commerce to the Department of Social and Health Services so it can be incorporated into these consolidated contracts.

Graduation and Dropout Outcomes for Children in State Care (2005– 2008)

Burley, Mason. (2009). Olympia: Washington State Institute for Public Policy. Document No. 09-11-3901

Compared with the entire student population, youth placed in foster care have higher rates of reported disabilities, grade retention, and school mobility, and lower levels of academic achievement.  All of these factors place a student at a higher risk of dropping out of school and reduce the likelihood of graduation.  Foster youth with a longer placement history, however, have better outcomes compared with those who have been in care for only a short time.

While the Institute has conducted previous analyses on the educational attainment of foster youth, this is this first report to compare these outcomes using the standard, federal definitions of dropout and graduation rates.  Based on this methodology, we found:  

  • Approximately 70 percent of high school students in Washington State graduate on time. About 30 percent of foster youth in placement for at least half of the school year, and 40 percent of youth in a full-year placement, graduate after four years in high school.
  • The statewide annual dropout rate for high schoolers in Washington State ranges between 5 and 6 percent. Between 8 and 13 percent of foster youth with a long-term (full year) placement drop out of high school.
  • Foster youth with longer-term placements (360 days or more during the school year) have lower dropout rates and higher graduation rates compared with foster youth with short term placements during high school.

The report represents the latest analysis in an ongoing study to investigate educational outcomes for foster youth. Future reports on assessment outcomes and educational advocacy for foster youth are planned for 2010.

Helping Former Foster Youth Graduate from College: Campus support programs in California and Washington State

Dworsky, A. & Pérez, A. (2009). Chicago: Chapin Hall at the University of Chicago.

The economic benefits of a college education are well documented. According to the National Center for Educational Statistics, young adults with at least a bachelor’s degree earn significantly more than those with less education, and the gap in median income between college graduates and high school graduates has increased over time. In 2005, 25- to 34-year-olds who had at least a bachelor’s degree earned, on average, 61 percent more than those with only a high school diploma or GED (Planty et al., 2007). Although more difficult to quantify, research suggests that graduating from college can also have nonmonetary benefits (Baum & Ma, 2007). 

Graduating from college is no less important for young people making the transition out of foster care. Unfortunately, the limited data we have from studies of this population indicate that their college graduation rate is very low. Although estimates of the percentage of foster youth who graduate from college vary depending on the age at which educational attainment is measured, most range from as low as 1 to as high as 11 percent (Emerson, 2006; Pecora et al., 2003; Wolanin, 2005). By comparison, approximately 30 percent of 25- to 29-year-olds in the general population have at least a bachelor’s degree (Snyder, Dillow, & Hoffman, 2008). 

The lower rate of college graduation among young adults who “aged out” of foster care reflects a combination of factors. First, foster youth are less likely to attend college than other young adults. For example, Courtney et al. (2007) found that approximately 53 percent of 21-year-olds in a nationally representative sample had completed at least one year of college compared with just 30 percent of 21-year-olds who had aged out of foster care. 

Lower rates of high school completion explain at least part of this difference (Burley & Halpern, 2001). Based on his review of several studies, Wolanin (2005) estimated that approximately 50 percent of foster youth complete high school by age 18 compared with 70 percent of their nonfoster peers. More recently, Courtney et al. (2007) reported that 77 percent of 21-year-old former foster youth had a high school diploma or GED compared with 89 percent of a nationally representative sample of 21-year-olds. 

We conducted telephone interviews with directors from each of the 10 campus support programs in California and Washington State that were fully implemented as of the start of the 2006–2007 academic year.  Each interview took approximately 45 minutes to one hour to complete. (See the Appendix for a copy of the interview protocol). The interviews were recorded, transcribed and analyzed for major themes. The 10 programs and their institutional affiliations are listed in Table 1.


Table 1. Programs and Their Institutional Affiliations

Institutional Affiliation                        Program                                              Established

Northern California  

California State University, East Bay Renaissance Scholars                          2006–07

San Francisco State University            Guardian Scholars                               2005–06

San José State University                    Connect, Motivate & Educate Society 2005–06

University of California, Santa Cruz    Smith Renaissance Society                 2003–04 Southern California  

Cal. State Polytechnic U., Pomona      Renaissance Scholars                          2002–03

Cal. State University, Fullerton           Guardian Scholars                               1998–99 Orange Coast Community College     Guardian Scholars                               2001–02

  1. of California, Irvine Guardian Scholars 2002–03

Washington State  

College Success Foundation                Governor’s Scholarship                       2002–03 Seattle University                                     Fostering Scholars                               2006–07 


High School Graduation and Dropout Trends for Washington State Foster Youth (2005– 2009)

Burley, Mason. (2010). Olympia: Washington State Institute for Public Policy. Document No. 10-10-3901.

This report includes updated statistics on graduation and dropout rates for foster youth in Washington State.  Youth in an out-of-home (foster) placement have educational outcomes that are significantly below other students, and even below other disadvantaged student populations.

Since 2005, the graduation rate for all students in Washington State has ranged between 70 and 75 percent.  For students in foster care, graduation rates vary between 32 and 44 percent.  While these rates are significantly below other students, graduation numbers for foster youth have improved in each of the last three years.  However, graduation levels for foster youth also lag behind other disadvantaged groups, such as low-income, special education, and migrant students.

In the 2008–09 school year, 12 percent of foster youth dropped out of high school, a rate more than twice as high as the statewide dropout rate (5 percent).  While these students are best served by continuing their education and graduating from high school, research does suggest that earning a General Educational Development (GED) certificate can have benefits for some dropouts.  Exact numbers are not available in Washington State, but including foster students who earn a GED in the analysis could increase the high school completion rate to about 73 percent.

Following outcomes for foster youth beyond high school will be important to assess the effectiveness of programs targeted to this population.  The National Youth in Transition Database, implemented in October 2010, is one new effort that will help follow outcomes for foster youth as they transition to adulthood.

Independent and Transitional Living Programs for Current and Former Foster Youth  

Miller, Marna.  (2009). Olympia: Washington State Institute for Public Policy. Document No. 09-04-3901.

The 2008 Legislature directed the Washington State Institute for Public Policy (Institute) to collect information on how well current services are meeting the needs of youth aging out of foster care. A survey was conducted of Independent and Transitional Living Programs that provided services to foster youth as they prepared for and transitioned to independent living. In 2008, 12 agencies provided contracted Independent and Transitional Living Program services to this population. Approximately 1,200 youth participated during this year. Over 300 received funds for housing support, with a total of $372,253 distributed to this population.

Independent Youth Housing Program for Former Foster Youth: Outcomes for Participants

  1. Miller (2012). Olympia: Washington State Institute for Public Policy. Document Number 12-06-3901.

The Independent Youth Housing Program (IYHP) was created in 2007 by Washington’s legislature to provide housing assistance and case management for former foster youth ages 18 to 23.  In the current biennium, $1,800,000 is budgeted for IYHP.

 The legislature directed the Washington State Institute for Public Policy to conduct a study measuring outcomes for youth participating in IYHP.  

 For this study, we identified former foster youth who received IYHP during fiscal year 2010 and looked at their use of state-paid services, and arrests and employment during fiscal year 2011.


  • Most (77 percent) had state-paid medical coverage;
  • Most (84 percent) received Basic Food Assistance;
  • About one third (32 percent) received some form of cash assistance;
  • 11 percent received child care subsidies;
  • 6 percent had been arrested; and
  • 64 percent had been employed at some time during the year.

Rates of arrest and employment are roughly comparable to rates for the general population of young adults in Washington State.

Because we were unable to identify a comparable group of former foster youth who did not participate in IYHP, we cannot determine whether or how receipt of IYHP supports may have influenced the use of state services, arrests or employment.

Outcomes of Referrals to Child Protective Services: Comparing Reporters

Miller, Marna. (2009). Olympia: Washington State Institute for Public Policy. Document Number 09-06-3901.

In 2008, the Legislature directed the Office of the Family and Children’s Ombudsman (OFCO) to analyze referrals of child abuse and neglect to find out whether the source of the referral influenced the response by the Child Protective Service at the Department of Social and Health Services (DSHS).  OFCO contracted with the Washington State Institute for Public Policy to perform the study. 

A total of 96,000 referrals made between January 2006 and February 2008 were examined. State law requires certain professions to report suspected child abuse or neglect.  The data system at DSHS sorts these professionals into nine categories: corrections personnel, DSHS employees, medical professionals, law enforcement personnel, mental health professionals, foster care providers, social service professionals, educators, and child care providers.  Referrals also come from friends, neighbors, and other citizens who are not mandatory reporters.

The study found that educators and social services professionals make more reports to CPS than other types of reporters.  This is true nationally as well as in Washington. The study also found variations in the outcomes of referrals from the various types of reporters. 

The proportion of referrals accepted for investigation ranged from 47 percent for mental health professionals to 69 percent for law enforcement.  Referrals from law enforcement were both more likely to be accepted for investigation, and result in removal of a child from his or her home.

The largest variation in outcomes, however, was not determined by reporter type.  Rather, DSHS region and the history of the individual intake worker were the stronger predictors of the initial risk assigned to a referral.  Intake workers with a history of assigning higher levels of risk than their peers (which results in investigation and intervention) were more likely to continue to assign higher levels of risk. It is possible that this phenomenon may have changed since February 2009, when Children’s Administration modified its intake procedures.  Further analysis would be necessary to learn whether the new procedures have changed the worker and regional variations we observe here.

Passport to College Promise: College Assistance and Support for Former Foster Youth

Burley, M., & Lemon, M. (2012). Olympia: Washington State Institute for Public Policy.  Document No. 12-123901.

Washington State’s Passport to College Promise program (Passport) was created in 2007 to increase post-secondary educational outcomes for former foster youth.  In 2010-11, the state allocated $2 million for Passport, which served 384 college and 469 high school students.   Passport consists of three components:  1) Pre-college preparation provided to high school-age foster youth by six regional nongovernmental agencies; 2) A scholarship for former foster youth attending eligible in-state schools; and   3) Academic and support services from Designated Support Staff at participating colleges.  Washington is one of only two states that provide these kinds of “wraparound” services in addition to financial aid for former foster youth attending college.

The Institute was directed by the Washington State Legislature to study the impact of Passport on students’ post-secondary participation and success.  Further, the Institute was directed to include in this report recommendations for program improvement.

A true comparison group evaluation was not possible for this study. Therefore, we compared outcomes for Passport students relative to common college performance benchmarks: retention, persistence, and completion.  About two-thirds of Passport students remained enrolled for more than six months during their first year.  These students had retention and completion outcomes similar to other (non-foster) students.  Several recommendations for program improvement are provided.

Placement Decisions for Children in Long-Term Foster Care: Innovative Practices and Literature Review

Doran, Lee and Lucy Berliner. (2001). Olympia: Washington State Institute for Public Policy. Document No. 01-02-3902.

The 2000 Legislature directed the Washington State Institute for Public Policy to examine the best practices in other states regarding placement decisions for children in long-term  foster care (EHB 2487 §607(c)).  The term foster care generally refers both to family and institutional settings for children whose parents are unable to provide adequate care; placement decisions occur after a child is in state care.

The following topics are covered in this report:

  • Placement decision-making;
  • Research findings of children in foster care; and
  • Innovative practices in other states.

A separate report describes the characteristics of Washington’s children in long-term foster care and their placement history (Berliner and Fine 2001).


The research findings on foster care children and placement reveals, first and foremost, the connections between events and outcomes.  In simple terms, these connections can be expressed as follows:

  • Children in foster care longer than three months often enter this system with psychological injuries and vulnerabilities, as well as behavioral problems.
  • Behavior problems can create difficulties in a child’s placement and ultimately lead to multiple placements. Multiple placements are associated with worse outcomes for children.
  • Even for children with few impairments, being moved from setting to setting often increases their problems.

Given the harm associated with multiple placements, the clear ideal is connecting children with the most appropriate setting at the onset of their foster care experience, taking into account their psychological and physical needs.  To help standardize such decisions, a measurement instrument can be of great value to a state.

 As is the case with many standardized instruments, however, the task has proven to be more complex than it originally appeared.  Research findings have revealed the following:

  • Instruments vary in their ability to accurately distinguish children’s problems and needs.
  • Caseworkers and clinicians often resist using such an instrument, viewing it either as unhelpful or not being sure how to apply it to individual decisions.
  • Placement settings with the same label (treatment foster care, therapeutic residential services) may in fact offer very different levels of services and structure, thus mitigating the connection between assessment decisions and placement services.

In reviewing states, Georgia’s system of decision-making and review emerged as the most comprehensive. All children entering foster care in Georgia are assessed with a standardized instrument. A multi-disciplinary team reviews this assessment and determines the best possible placement given available resources.  This approach combines the benefits of a standardized instrument with a decision-making apparatus that is multidisciplinary and has authority for placement.

Professor [Amy Salazar] to Testify before Congress about Foster Care

Weybright, Scott. (1 Dec. 2016). Pullman: Washington State University, College of Agricultural, Human & Natural Resource Sciences.Cynthia King

Youth in the foster care system receive little support once they turn 18, especially when it comes to pursuing postsecondary education.

Research about this shortcoming will be presented by Amy Salazar, Washington State University Vancouver assistant professor in the Department of Human Development, at discussions hosted by the Congressional and Senate Caucuses on Foster Youth on Dec. 7 in Washington D.C.

Her research is focused on youth and young adults who have spent time in foster care.

“Youth who age out of foster care often have a very hard time transitioning to adulthood, as they lack many of the resources and supports that their non-foster youth peers often have,” she said. “Accessing higher education is especially challenging for them, and they tend to be far behind their non-foster care peers.”

Salazar’s testimony will support legislative efforts aimed at improving federally supported postsecondary programs for youth who have been in foster care. Also speaking will be two foster care professionals and three college students who aged out of the foster care system. Student David Inglish, a child of foster care and recent college graduate, participated in Salazar’s recent research project, “Fostering Higher Education”

“We want to provide more substantial and consistent support for youth in foster care who want to pursue postsecondary education,” said Salazar, a former social worker. “We want to strengthen financial aid and student support services so these young people can have the resources they need to be successful.”

Services for Youth Transitioning from Foster Care: Views of Foster Youth and Foster Parents

Schrager, Laura. (2008). Olympia: Washington State Institute for Public Policy. Document No. 08-12-3902.

The 2008 Legislature included a budget proviso for the Washington State Institute for Public Policy to survey foster youth and foster parents about how well current services are meeting needs of youth aging out of foster care.

Youth who had aged out of care in the year prior to June 2007 were difficult to locate; with extensive effort, we were able to interview 20 percent of this population (169 youth).  We interviewed 194 foster parents whose youth aged out during this same time period (not necessarily the same youth who were interviewed).  We asked both groups about the preparedness of youth exiting foster care, the challenges they faced, and the services that help youth transition to independence.


  • 84 percent of the surveyed foster youth believed they were very or somewhat prepared to live on their own. In contrast, only 46 percent of foster parents rated their foster children in these categories; they were as likely to rate them as not very prepared or not at all prepared.
  • Foster parents and foster youth focused on money, work, and housing as challenges for transitioning youth.
  • When asked which services are most needed by transitioning foster youth, both youth and parents identified:
    • continued help from the state after leaving,
    • services provided by Independent and Transitional Living providers, and
    • improved preparation of foster youth through more classes and support.

Structured Decision Making Risk Assessment: Does it Reduce Racial Disproportionality in Washington’s Child Welfare System?

Miller, Marna. (2011). Olympia: Washington State Institute for Public Policy. Document Number 11-05-3901.

In 2008, the Washington State Institute for Public Policy (Institute), together with the Washington State Racial Disproportionality Advisory Committee, studied racial disproportionality in Washington’s child welfare system.  We found that following referrals to Child Protective Services (CPS), Indian and Black children (but not Asian or Latino children) were more likely to be placed and remain in foster care significantly longer than White children.  

The Structured Decision Making (SDM) model is a system of assessment tools used at various decision points in the child welfare system.  DSHS Children’s Administration adopted the SDM risk assessment, but not any other SDM tools.  The risk assessment is used during CPS investigations to classify families on their risk of further child maltreatment. 

The 2009 Legislature directed the Institute to study the effects of SDM on racial disproportionality.


Between 2004 and 2008, we found marked year-to-year variation in disproportionality following CPS referrals (Disproportionality Index After Referral: DIAR), especially for Black children.  This variation can be partly explained by rates of referral that also differed from year to year.

Our analysis took advantage of the fact that SDM was implemented statewide in October 2007.  We assumed that if SDM affected outcomes for children, we would see the effect of SDM by comparing outcomes for children with referrals in 2008 with those of children with referrals in earlier years.   

When our analysis combined children of all races, we observed no effect of SDM on:

  • Out-of-home placements, or
  • New reports to CPS.

We also analyzed outcomes for each race separately.  For White, Indian, Asian, and Latino children we found no effect of SDM on placements or new CPS reports. 

Black children with referrals in 2008 were more likely to be removed from home and more likely to have new CPS referrals than Black children with referrals in earlier years.  We cannot be certain that the SDM risk assessment was the cause of the differences in 2008; differences may also be the product of the largely unexplained year-to-year fluctuations in disproportionality for Black children. 

Study Language from the 2009 Legislature

“…the Washington state institute for public policy shall evaluate the department of social and health services’ use of structured decisionmaking practices and implementation of the family team decision-making model to determine whether and how those child protection and child welfare efforts result in reducing disproportionate representation of African-American, Native American, and Latino children in the state’s child welfare system.”

 Laws of 2009, Ch.213, ESSB 5882, (Emphasis added.)

Youth Aging Out of Foster Care: Risk and Protective Factors for Criminal Justice System Involvement

Henzel, Paula Ditton, Jim Mayfield, Andrés Soriano, David Marshall, and Barbara E.M. Felver. (2016). Olympia: Research and Data Analysis, Department of Social and Health Services.

This report identifies key risk and protective factors associated with criminal justice involvement for youth aging out of foster care.  Twenty percent of the 1,365 youth statewide who aged out of foster care between July 2010 and September 2013 experienced an arrest or jail booking in the following year. Youth with a recent arrest or Juvenile Rehabilitation involvement were at increased risk of criminal justice involvement after aging out of care. Other risk factors include a history of running away, substance use disorder treatment need and congregate care placements. Youth placed in extended foster care were less likely to be arrested or jailed after aging out of care.

The Department of Social and Health Services (DSHS) Children’s Administration provides foster care placement services to children in need of protection due to abuse, neglect, or family conflict. Most youth exit the foster care system at age 18. Some young adults remain in care through the Extended Foster Care program.

Prior research indicates that compared to youth in the general population, foster youth aging out of care have an increased risk of criminal involvement during young adulthood (Cusick et al. 2011). To help inform targeted interventions and exit planning, this report begins to identify key risk and protective factors associated with criminal justice involvement (arrests and jail bookings) among youth transitioning to adulthood, the year after aging out of foster care. This report builds on a prior analysis using linked administrative data to identify key risk and protective factors associated with homelessness after aging out of care (see Shah et al. 2015).

Key Findings

We identified 1,365 youth statewide who exited foster care July 2010 to September 2013 at age 17 or older. We found the following:

  1. One in five youth aging out of foster care was arrested or jailed within one year.
  2. Recent involvement in the juvenile justice system was the strongest predictor of involvement in the adult criminal justice system. Youth with a history of arrests or Juvenile Rehabilitation involvement were at significantly increased risk of arrest or confinement to jail as a young adult.
  3. A history of running away, alcohol or drug treatment need, and congregate care placements were associated with increased risk of criminal justice involvement after aging out of care.
  4. Youth placed in Extended Foster Care were less likely to be arrested or jailed after aging out of care, but only a small portion of foster youth participate in extended care.


 Burley, M. & Lee, S. (2010). Extending foster care to age 21: Measuring costs and benefits in Washington State. Olympia: Washington State Institute for Public Policy.

Cusick, G., Courtney, M., Havlicek, J. & Hess, N. (2011). Crime during the Transition to Adulthood: How Youth Fare as They Leave Out-of-Home Care. Chicago: Chapin Hall at the University of Chicago.

Cusick, G., Havlicek & Courtney, M. (2012). Risk for Arrest: The Role of Social Bonds in Protecting Foster Youth Making the Transition to Adulthood. American Journal of Orthopsychiatry, 82(1), 19-31.

Cutuli, J., George, R., Coulton, C., Schretzman, M., Crampton, D., Charvat, B., Lalich, N., Raithel, J., Cacitua, C. & Lee, E. (2016). From foster care to juvenile justice: Exploring characteristics of youth in three cities. Children and Youth Services Review, 67, 84-94.  Mancuso, D. (2014). DSHS Integrated Client Database, Olympia, WA, DSHS Research and Data Analysis Division,

McMahon, R. & Fields, S. (2015). Criminal conduct subgroups of “aging out” foster youth. Children and Youth Services Review, 48, 14-19.

Sharkova, I., Lucenko, B., & Felver, B (2016). Transition to Adulthood: Washington State Foster Youth at Age 17: Findings from the 2014 NYTD Survey. Olympia, WA, DSHS Research and Data Analysis Division. 

Shah, M., Liu, Q., Mancuso, D., Marshall, D., Felver, B., Lucenko, B. & Huber, A. (2015). Youth at Risk of Homelessness: Identifying Key Predictive Factors among Youth Aging Out of Foster Care in Washington State. Olympia, WA, DSHS Research and Data Analysis Division.

 U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Administration for Children and Families, Children’s Bureau (2015). A National Look at the Use of Congregate Care in Child Welfare.



National, Regional and Other States’ Information and Studies

A Critical Look at the Foster Care System: Foster Care Outcomes

Blog: Lifting the Veil – blog on foster care.

This blog by Lifting the Veil ( cites statistics of outcomes for children in the foster care system throughout the nation. They cite percentages of runaway youths who had been in foster care, as well as statistics on homelessness, substance abuse, domestic abuse, imprisonment, unemployment, low secondary educational attainment, and low earnings among former foster care youth.  The citations are noted in full following this account. [Note: The numbers in brackets correspond to the references cited.]

Pertinent citations related to incarceration are presented below although they are often dated:

Graduating from the Streets to the Prisons

A 1991 federal study of former foster care wards found that one-fourth had been homeless, 40 percent were on public assistance and half were unemployed. Connecticut officials estimate 75 percent of youths in the state’s criminal justice system were once in foster care.[13]

According to a survey by the National Association of Social Workers, 20 percent of children living in runaway shelters come directly from foster care. Children placed in out-of-home care, regardless of the reason, are at higher risk of developing alcohol and drug problems. The survey also found that 80 percent of prisoners in Illinois spent time in foster care as children.[14]

Karl Dennis, executive director of the Illinois based Kaleidoscope, the first child welfare agency in the country to provide unconditional care for children, says that in California, 80 percent of the adults in in the correctional facilities “are graduates of the state; the juvenile justice, the child welfare, the mental health and the special education systems.”[15]

Close Up: Educational Disadvantages

A study issued in 2005 examined the case records of 659 foster care alumni who had been in the care of Casey Family Programs or the Oregon or Washington State child welfare agencies between 1988 and 1998. The Northwest Foster Care Alumni Study found that while alumni completed high school at rates similar to the general population, they used GED programs to complete high school at six times the rate of the general population.

Sixty five percent of the alumni had experienced seven or more school changes from elementary through high school, 20.6 percent had obtained any degree or certificate beyond high school, while 1.8 percent of those alumni under age 25 had obtained a bachelor’s degree. Over twenty two percent had been homeless for one or more days after the age of 18, while about 33 percent had household incomes at or below the poverty level and lacked health insurance.[21]

Foster youths are not necessarily a homogeneous group. Some children are remarkably resilient, and find the wherewithal to succeed in spite of the obstacles set in their path. A study conducted by Casey Family Programs of eight foster youth who graduated from college earning degrees presents fifteen major themes concerning college success.

“My family is important to me” emerged among the major themes. “For the most part, these youth valued what family they had. Three students held out the hope that someday they would reunite, to some degree, with their biological parents. Among the top goals of one young woman was spending more time with her biological family, with whom she had lost contact when she was a teenager,” the study explains. One of the young men stated: “My family is very important to me. I didn’t feel I had the right to be 10 hours away from them” to attend a college.

“Their accomplishments suggest that all young people, including foster youth and youth with disabilities, can succeed academically given adequate support and advocacy from educators, professionals, and their caregivers,” explains the study’s abstract. “The perspectives of these graduates on going to college and earning a degree, despite various barriers, presents an opportunity to learn how other young adults like them might be better supported.”[22]

Kayla VanDyke is one such remarkably resilient youth, having lived in seven foster placements, and as a result having attended ten different schools.

She missed entire content sections because the school in which she enrolled taught a subject in a different sequence than the one that she’d left. She skipped the entirety of fourth grade during a year of homelessness. When she and her mother were finally accepted into a Minneapolis homeless shelter, she went back to school and was enrolled in fifth grade because her academic records couldn’t be found and “no one pressed the issue.”

Kayla testified before the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee in April of 2010, seeking to put a face on the problems of educating foster and homeless youth. Students, Kayla said, should have the right to remain in their old school when they move to a new home.

VanDyke explained that she felt uncomfortable asking her new foster parents to drive her to her old school, even if it was only a few minutes away. “It goes back to emotional stability, you’re in a new home, you don’t know these people they’ve already made accommodations for you, you feel like a burden so when you go out of your way to ask for accommodation you feel like even more of a burden,” she said.

“Despite the statistics that suggest that roughly half of foster care and homeless youth do not finish high school, I will be graduating in four weeks with a 3.7 GPA,” she said to a round of applause from the audience in the packed committee room.[23]

U.S. Sen. Al Franken (D-Minn.) invited VanDyke to testify before the committee regarding special populations and education reform. Her role at the hearing was to illustrate the obstacles facing foster youth in the education system, an issue Franken has been working to improve in an upcoming education reauthorization bill.

“Through the force of her determination and innate ability, Kayla has overcome tremendous adversity,” said Sen. Franken. “Drawing from her own life experience, she can provide us with valuable guidance on education reform.”[24]

The Midwest Study

A study issued by researchers at the University of Chicago and University of Washington released in May of 2010 found that nearly 60 percent of young men who had been in foster care had been convicted of a crime, compared with 10 percent of young men who had never been in care. For women, three-quarters were on public assistance by age 24. The new study is the largest, and most comprehensive study of young adults leaving foster care in two decades.

Foster youth in Iowa, Wisconsin, and Illinois were eligible to participate in the study if they had entered care before their 16th birthday, were still in care at age 17, and had been removed from home for reasons other than delinquency. Baseline survey data were collected from 732 study participants when they were 17 or 18 years old.

The Midwest Study participants aged 23 or 24 “were over three times as likely not to have a high school diploma or GED, half as likely to have completed any college, and one-fifth as likely to have a college degree. They were also less likely to be enrolled in school, less likely to be pursuing postsecondary education if they were enrolled, and more likely to be enrolled in a 2-year college rather than 4-year college or graduate school if they were pursuing postsecondary education,” the report explains.

Almost half of the young adults in the study reported experiencing at least one of five material hardships, such as not enough money to pay rent, not enough money to pay a utility bill, gas or electricity shut off, phone service disconnected, or being evicted during the past year. Nearly 29 percent would be categorized as having low or very low food security.

Forty-two percent of the young men compared with 20 percent of the young women reported that they had been arrested, 23 percent of the young men compared with 8 percent of the young women reported that they had been convicted of a crime, and 45 percent compared with 18 percent of the young women reported that they had been incarcerated, the researchers found.

Young men in the study were more than twice as likely as young women to report that they had been the victim of a violent crime during the past 12 months. Participants were more likely to have been the victim of a violent crime during the past 12 months than participants in a control group. The researchers ultimately concluded:

The picture that emerges from data we collected when they were 23 and 24 years old is disquieting, particularly if we measure their success in terms of self-sufficiency. Across a wide range of outcome measures, including postsecondary educational attainment, employment, housing stability, public assistance receipt, and criminal justice system involvement, these former foster youth are faring poorly as a group both in an absolute sense and relative to young adults in the general population.

“Equally troubling,” the researchers explain, is that “fewer than half of the these 23- and 24-year-olds were currently employed, most of those who were employed were not earning a living wage, more than one-quarter had had no income from employment during the past year, and the median earnings of those had worked was a mere $8,000. Their lack of economic well-being is also reflected in the economic hardship they reported, the food insecurity they had experienced, and the means-tested benefits they had received. In addition, nearly 40 percent of these young people have been homeless or couch surfed since leaving foster care.”

To conclude on the most optimistic of possible notes, the researchers explained that: “Resiliency is also evident among this sample of former foster youth. Many expressed satisfaction with their lives and optimism about their futures. Moreover, although the child welfare system failed to find them permanent homes, most of these young people continue to have close ties to members of their family.”[25]

As Children’s Rights attorney Marcia Robinson Lowry explains: “Foster care systems established and funded to serve children are failing, producing only more damaged graduates who will go on to produce new generations of damaged children, who will continue to lead unspeakably tragic lives and who will increasingly tax our public resources.”[26]

Jean Adnopoz, a psychologist at the Yale Child Study Center, says children who spend years drifting between foster care homes “can’t be expected to come out in any way that would appear to be healthy.”

“If you have a child with no psychological parents, essentially adrift in the world, you are headed toward all sorts of bad outcomes,” she said. “And we as a society are going to pay and pay and pay for it.”[27]


  1. Los Angeles Times, “Study of Runaway Youths Finds One-Third Were in Foster Care,” as reported in St. Louis Post-Dispatch, (January 19, 1992).
  2. “Abused, Abandoned Juveniles Get Schooled for Adult Life,” San Diego Daily Transcript, (October 17, 1996).
  3. Sonia Nazario, “When Cries For Help Go Unheard,” Los Angeles Times, (March 28, 1993).
  4. Testimony of Dennis Lepak, Foster Care, Child Welfare, and Adoption Reforms, Joint Hearings before the Subcommittee on Public Assistance and Unemployment Compensation of the Committee on Ways and Means and the Select Committee on Children, Youth and Families, U.S. House of Representatives, April 13 and 28, May 12, 1988.
  5. Paige Williams, “The Breakdown of North Carolina’s Foster Care System,” Charlotte Observer, (March 6, 1994).
  6. Eileen McCaffrey, “Caught in a Twilight Zone,” San Diego Union-Tribune, (April 13, 1994).
  7. U.S. House of Representatives, Committee on Ways and Means, 1994 Green Book, Section 14, Child Welfare, Foster Care, and Adoption Assistance.
  8. Testimony of Michael W. Weber, Director, Hennepin County Community Services Department, Foster Care, Child Welfare, and Adoption Reforms, Joint Hearings before the Subcommittee on Public Assistance and Unemployment Compensation of the Committee on Ways and Means and the Select Committee on Children, Youth and Families, U.S. House of Representatives, April 13 and 28, May 12, 1988, p. 196.
  9. Duncan Lindsey, The Welfare of Children, (New York: Oxford University Press, 1994) p. 44.
  10. Michael Oreskes, “A System Overloaded: The Foster Care Crisis,” New York Times, (March 15, 1987).
  11. Duncan Lindsey, The Welfare of Children, p. 44.
  12. Institute for Children and Poverty, Homelessness: The Foster Care Connection, (New York: Homes for the Homeless, 1993). National Coalition for the Homeless, “Breaking the Foster Care – Homelessness Connection,” Sept/Oct 1998. Web downloaded from, however no longer available online.
  13. Fred Bayles and Sharon Cohen, “Chaos Often the Only Parent for Abused or Neglected Children,” (AP) Los Angeles Times, (April 30, 1995).
  14. Beth Azar, “Foster Care Has Bleak History,” APA Monitor, (November, 1995).
  15. Renny Golden, Disposable Children: America’s Child Welfare System, (Belmont, Ca.: Wadsworth Publishing Company, 1997) p. 171.
  16. Quote drawn from an earlier (circa 1998) Youth Law Center Home Page. The Youth Law Center is currently to be found at:
  17. 1994 Green Book, see note 6.
  18. Florida-5th News in Brief, United Press International News Service, as reported on Yahoo! News, (October 25, 1996).
  19. Amanda Singer, Assessing Outcomes of Youth Transitioning From Foster Care, State of Utah, Department of Human Services, 2006.
  20. Grappling with the Gaps: Toward a Research Agenda to Meet the Educational Needs of Children and Youth in Foster Care, Center for the Future of Teaching and Learning for The Stuart Foundation and the Ready to Succeed Leadership Team, April 2010.
  21. Peter J. Pecora, Ronald C. Kessler, Jason Williams, Kirk O’Brien, A. Chris Downs, Diana English, James White, Eva Hiripi, Catherine Roller White, Tamera Wiggins, and Kate Holmes, Improving Family Foster Care, Casey Family Programs, April 2005.
  22. Thomas Lovitt and John Emerson, Foster Youth Who Have Succeeded in Higher Education: Common Themes, National Center on Secondary Education and Transition, University of Minnesota, 2008. Citation to abstract is to the one available on the ERIC system.
  23. Statement of Kayla VanDyke, Foster Youth, Minnesota, Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions (HELP) Committee Hearing on ESEA Reauthorization: Meeting the Needs of Special Populations, April 29, 2010. See also the videos Kayla VanDyke’s Testimony Before the Senate HELP Committee and Sen. Franken’s Questioning of Kayla VanDyke In The HELP Committee on YouTube.
  24. Office of Sen. Al Franken, Minnesota Foster Youth Testifies That Franken Initiative Would Help Students In Foster Care, press release, April 29, 2010.
  25. Mark E. Courtney, Amy Dworsky, JoAnn S. Lee, Melissa Raap, Gretchen Ruth Cusick, Thomas Keller, Judy Havlicek, Alfred Perez, Sherri Terao, Noel Bost, Midwest Evaluation of the Adult Functioning of Former Foster Youth, Chapin Hall at the University of Chicago, 2010.
  26. Written Testimony of Marcia Robinson Lowry, Child Welfare Programs, Hearing before the Subcommittee on Oversight of the Committee on Ways and Means, U.S. House of Representatives, January 23, 1995.
  27. “Chaos Often the Only Parent for Abused or Neglected Children.” See note 10.

Children in Foster Care with Parents in Federal Prison: A Toolkit for Child Welfare Agencies, Federal Prisons, and Residential Reentry Centers 

A Product of the Federal Interagency Working Group for Children of Incarcerated Parents. (June 2013).

Extended Foster Care Support during the Transition to Adulthood: Effect on the Risk of Arrest

Lee, JoAnn S., Mark E. Courtney, and Emiko Tajima. (2014). Children and Youth Services Review 42: 34-42.

Youth aging out of the foster care system are at high risk for adult arrests, but providing extended foster care support during the early years of their transition from adolescence to independent adulthood may reduce this risk. This study used survey data from the Midwest Evaluation of the Adult Functioning of Former Foster Youth (N=732) matched with official arrest data to estimate the potential benefit of providing extended foster care support in reducing the risk of arrest in the early transition period. In addition, other factors related to the risk of arrest for these former foster youth were explored. Event history modeling techniques were used to estimate the impact of extended care on the risk of a first adult arrest. Models were estimated for men and women separately, and for all non-procedural arrests and violent arrests only. Extended care is associated with a lower risk of arrest in the first year, but appears to have a declining effect over time.

Formal Bonds during the Transition to Adulthood: Extended Foster Care Support and Criminal/Legal Involvement 

Lee, JoAnn S., Mark E. Courtney, and Jennifer L. Hook. (2012). Journal of Public Child Welfare 6(3): 255-79.

There is evidence that foster youth who remain in care past the age of 18 through to 21 years experience benefits in the areas of higher education, earnings and delayed pregnancy. This article explores whether these benefits also extend to involvement in crime and the legal system.

The study used data from the Midwest Evaluation of the Adult Functioning of Former Foster Youth, a prospective study following 732 youth in their transitions from care. The Midwest Study consists of a sample of 17-year-old youth leaving the foster care system in 3 states, Illinois, Wisconsin, and Iowa. Four waves of data were collected, when the youth were aged 17, 19, 21 and 23 years. The data included 3 legal system involvement measures (arrested, convicted or incarcerated) and 4 illegal behaviour measures (violent crimes, property crimes, drug crimes and any crimes) as well as the youth’s care status.

Foster care statistics 2015

Child Welfare Information Gateway. (2017). Washington, DC: U.S. Department of Health and Human            Services, Children’s Bureau.

The Children’s Bureau’s Child Welfare Information Gateway posted national-level Foster Care Statistics FY 2015 and comparison data from FY 2006 on March 2017.  Data were obtained from the Adoption and Foster Care Analysis and Reporting System (AFCARS), which collects information on (1) all children in foster care for whom State child welfare agencies have responsibility for placement, care, or supervision and (2) all children who are adopted with public child welfare agency involvement.

Improving Education Outcomes for Foster Youth: What We Can All Do

Three Branch Institute on Child Social and Emotional Well-Being. (July 24, 2013).

In 2007, three nationally respected advocates for the educational rights of children in foster care – the American Bar Association Center on Children and the Law, the Education Law Center and the Juvenile Law Center – formed the Legal Center for Foster Care and Education. We provide:

This presentation provides some statistics and resources for making changes in laws and policies.

Legal Center for Foster Care and Education

Collaboration of • American Bar Association Center on Children and the Law • Annie E. Casey Foundation • Casey Family Programs • Education Law Center (PA) • Juvenile Law Center

  • A national technical assistance resource and information clearinghouse on legal and policy matters affecting the education of children and youth in foster care
  • Listserv, Training Materials, Conference Calls and Webinars, Publications, Searchable Database (includes state laws & policies)
  • Website: – This site contains the American Bar Association, Center on Children and the Law, Clearinghouse of Foster Care and Education Information. It contains a searchable database, reports and how-to toolkits for changing laws and policies surrounding this issue.

Offending during Late Adolescence: How Do Youth Aging Out of Care Compare with their Peers?

Cusick, Gretchen R., and Mark E. Courtney. (2007). Chicago: Chapin Hall Center for Children at the University of Chicago.

This paper presents data on self-reported offending during the periods of late adolescence and early adulthood in a sample of young people aging out of the child welfare systems across three Midwestern states and a nationally representative sample of same-aged peers. In particular, two issues are addressed:

1) how youth in out-of-home care compare to youth more generally in terms of self-reported offending during the early transition to adulthood and

2) whether offending declines between late adolescence and early adulthood among youth who have aged out of out-of-home care.

Data presented in this brief come from two sources. First, we used data from the Midwest Study of the Adult Functioning of Former Foster Youth (the Midwest Study), which is a longitudinal study following the progress of a sample of 732 youth placed in out-of-home care due to abuse and/or neglect (as opposed to delinquency) across three Midwestern states who reached the age of 17 while in out-of-home care and had been in care for at least 1 year prior to their seventeenth birthday. We present data from the first interview, when youth were approximately 17–18 years old, and the first follow-up interview at age 19.

This brief provides basic information comparing offending of young people aging out of the child welfare system to that of youth more generally. The findings that foster youth have higher levels of offending than their same-aged peers, even after accounting for differences in racial distributions, indi­cate that this group is at high risk for both offending and criminal justice system involvement during the transition to adulthood. These findings, however, do not provide evidence regarding whether youths’ placement experiences in out-of-home care have anything to do with their behavior or justice system involvement. Further multivariate analyses of self-reported offending and arrest are needed to determine how placement experiences, as well as risk factors such as substance abuse, mental health and behavior problems, and prior abuse and neglect, or protective factors, such as social support, service receipt, and educational progress, make offending more or less likely among these young people aging out of care.

In comparing offending during the transition to adulthood between a sample of youth aging out of the child welfare system and a national sample of youth, we found:

  • Overall, there were striking differences in offending reported between 17–18-year-old youth aging out of care and their same-aged peers. Youth aging out of the child welfare system had higher rates of offending across a range of behaviors from property crimes to serious violent crimes.
  • We found fewer differences in offending between the sample of youth aging out of care and a national sample at age 19, although offending overall was lower in both groups. Foster youth were more likely to report damaging property, stealing something worth more than $50, partic­ipating in a group fight, and pulling a knife or gun on someone. In addition, a higher percentage of foster youth reported having been arrested since age 18.
  • However, differences in offending between foster youth and youth more generally vary by gender. Female foster youth were more likely to report engaging in most offenses at ages 17–18 and 19. Conversely, although male foster youth were more likely to offend across the range of behaviors at age 17–18, no differences, with the exception of group fighting, were found among males at age 19.
  • Both male and female foster youth were over ten times more likely to report having been arrested since age 18 than youth in the Add Health study.
  • As has been found in prior research on the age distribu­tion of crime, offending tended to decrease among youth aging out of the child welfare system as reported at ages 17–18 and age 19.

Risk for Arrest: The Role of Social Bonds in Protecting Foster Youth Making the Transition to Adulthood

Cusick, Gretchen R., Judy Havlicek, and Mark E. Courtney. (2012). American Journal of Orthopsychiatry 82(1): 19-31.

This study examines a sample of foster youth at the onset of the transition to adulthood and explores how social bonds are related to the risk of arrest during adulthood.  Drawing from official arrest records, event history models are used to examine the time to arrest. Because individuals may be at risk for different types of crime, competing risk regression models are used to distinguish among arrests for drug-related, nonviolent, or violent crimes. Between the ages of 17–18 and 24, 46% of former foster youth experience an arrest. Arrests were evenly distributed across drug, nonviolent, and violent crimes columns. Although findings fail to support the significance of social bonds to interpersonal domains, bonds to employment and education are associated with a lower risk for arrest. Child welfare policy and practice implications for building connections and protections around foster youth are discussed.

This study is the first to examine the extent to which social bonds at the onset of the transition to adulthood reduce the risk of arrest among foster youth during adulthood. Placing bonds into greater social and temporal context provides an initial understanding of the safety net surrounding foster youth and sheds light on the places to direct efforts aimed at building protections. This study’s findings suggest that greater efforts are required to build strong and lasting social bonds in adulthood. This is particularly true in light of the high rate of arrest experienced by this sample. Nearly one of every two foster youth was arrested. This rate is four times higher than the rate of arrest for young adults who come from lower-income families (Klein & Forehand, 1997) and twice as high as the rate of criminal system involvement of a high-risk sample of youth with psychiatric impairment (Vander Stoep et al., 2000). The findings of this study suggest the need to focus efforts in three main areas.

  1. To systematically improve prospects, there is a need to widen the view of child welfare policy from a focus on the transition or just beyond to include the events leading up to the transition to adulthood.
  2. Second, high-quality prevention interventions that aim to decrease risks and increase protections should be developed and tested.
  3. Third, moving beyond singularly focused interventions to include the social ecology surrounding foster youth may be particularly instrumental in developing a comprehensive approach to building protections.