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November 19, 2018 Practice Points

Inform Your Advocacy for Transition-Aged Clients Using State-Specific Data

By Jessalyn Schwartz

Recently, the Annie E. Casey Foundation released a comprehensive report regarding transition-aged youth (ages 14–21), including detailed data profiles of all 50 states and Washington, D.C. As practitioners serving these clients know, youth transitioning out of care have an incredibly difficult experience that is more complicated than that of similarly-aged youth who have not been in foster care. This report uses national and state data to give stakeholders, including attorneys, a better idea of how these youth are impacted by the process of aging out in their specific state.

Each state profile includes comparisons between national- and state-specific data spanning multiple categories—such as race and ethnicity, age, gender, episodes in foster care, the number of placements, the youth’s time in care, and youth outcomes. Overall, the data shows that 25 percent of youth in care nationally are transition-aged, with at least half of those aging out without reuniting or finding a connection to a family. One-third of youth were removed from their homes and placed in foster care on multiple occasions, with high rates of residential/group home placements and with half of youth experiencing three or more foster placements during their time in care. Less than a quarter of young people who receive federal funds for transition assistance receive services for employment, education, and housing, and transition-aged youth experience homelessness and other difficulties far more than the general population of similar age. Young people of color are far more likely to face barriers in their success and well-being after transitioning out of care and there are clear disparities related to race and ethnicity throughout the report’s findings.

As an example of the vital information found in each state profile, D.C. has a higher percentage of youth in care of transition age (31 percent) than the national average (25 percent). 89 percent of D.C.’s foster care population is African American, while only 28 percent of the national foster care population and 54 percent the district’s general population identifies as such. 67 percent of D.C.’s foster care youth have been in three or more foster care placements, compared with only 30 percent of foster youth nationwide. D.C. reports that it takes nearly three times as long for foster youth to achieve permanency compared to the nationwide average, and 75 percent of youth exit their foster care system because they have aged out, rather than because they were connected to a permanent familial or alternative arrangement. D.C. does have a high number of familial placements in comparison to group/residential or other types of care, but generally does not provide employment programs or substantial financial assistance for education. D.C.’s foster system generates more young parents, lower rates of high school or GED completion, and fewer individuals with full-time employment by age 21 than what is seen with foster youth nationwide.

Attorneys should review their state-specific data in order to pinpoint racial and ethnic disparities in their practice region and use the information to promote awareness of and access to resources for youth. Advocates may be able to use this data to push for more provision of education, employment, and housing assistance for their clients; encourage and seek connections to mentors and other supportive adults; and ensure their clients are engaged in the services that are currently available in their state. It is crucial to be aware of how often youth are utilizing assistance that is funded and accessible to them and to know whether underusage of such services is due to a lack of awareness and/or adequate programming.

In using this data, it is important to note that states often miss opportunities to derive data from youth experiencing transition and the reporting may be incomplete. The report encourages stakeholders and advocates to see youth themselves as the best reporter of their experience. Lawyers should explicitly ask clients whether the state agency is providing and promoting familial connections, education and employment opportunities, life skills training, and parenting support or other case-specific needs.  Lawyers should always be advocating for these services for clients, though they should particularly do so when clients are not receiving these needed services.

As the brief accompanying the data report states, “It’s critical that all stakeholders understand the experiences of young people transitioning from foster care in America if outcomes are to improve.”

Jessalyn Schwartz is an attorney in Washington, D.C. with a background in child welfare, mental health, and education.

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