Independent Living / Extended Foster Care

The Need

The longer a youth has been in care, the smaller his or her chances of achieving adoption or permanent guardianship. When youth no longer qualify for foster care as a result of reaching the age of 18 (or 21 if they opted for extended foster care) and have not achieved permanency, they are said to ‘age out’ of care.

National Statistics Indicate that…

  • Each year between 20,000 and 30,000 youth “age out” of foster care, even though the total number of children and youth in care is decreasing
  • More than 50% of foster youth drop out of high school
  • More than 50% are unemployed for an extended period of time once they leave care
  • If they are able to secure employment, their average earnings are a little over half of the general population the same age
  • The rate of arrests for males and the pregnancy rate for females soon after leaving foster care is shockingly higher than that of the general population

Under a new law passed during the 2013 session of the Florida Legislature and in effect since January 1, 2014, eligible youth ages 18 to 21 have the option of extending their foster care through a variety of arrangements. While the option of extended foster care is likely to prove positive for Florida’s youth, it by no means ends the problem of youth ‘aging out’ without a family or permanent connections. Furthermore, review of these young adults’ cases is extremely important both in ensuring they receive the services and supports promised, and in identifying problems that need to be worked out in the new system.

The Work

Youth who age out of the system face very low odds of achieving independence and living productive, positive lives. In response, in 2011 Florida Foster Care Review created the specialized Independent Living (IL) Review Program. Our goal was to create a sustainable system to help assure that Miami-Dade youth leave foster care with preparation and support for independent living.

With funding from The Miami Foundation and from the Paul Palank Memorial Foundation, FFCR completed Administrative Reviews of 25 young adults who had recently aged out of care. Our local foster care community, recognizing the struggles of youth exiting care, had recently made improvements to the way youth were being prepared for independent living. For FFCR, however, the information about their welfare ended once they aged out, since they were no longer under the jurisdiction of the court or subject to our judicial reviews. Therefore, with the goal of learning whether or not our community’s efforts were actually helping the youth, FFCR interviewed transitioning youth about their experiences with life after foster care. The report is available here:
November 2011 Final Report on Foster Care Review’s Independent Living/Administrative Review Project: Conversations with Youth who have Transitioned from Foster Care

In 2009-10, through funding from The Gap Foundation, FFCR implemented a Youth Outreach/Peer Advocate Pilot Program for IL youth. We hired former foster youth who worked to increase the attendance of IL youth at review hearings. They contacted IL youth who were scheduled to be reviewed, encouraged their attendance at the review, and/or assisted them in advocating their case before the panel. The Peer Advocates also created a brochure for IL youth explaining the review hearing process as well as a survey in order to collect more specific data on their current situations. Youth participation increased substantially during the project, giving the panels more case information and insight into what was really going on in their lives.

While FFCR no longer conducts specialized IL reviews, what we learned through the IL program now informs our CRP reviews of youth 13 and older. The work we did through the IL Review Program also compelled us to take on the Permanency Roundtable Program to help youth at risk of aging out achieve permanent, lifelong connections.

With the implementation of extended foster care, FFCR’s CRP this year began reviewing the cases of young adults ages 18 to 21 who opted for the new program. Building on our work from the IL Review Program, FFCR is currently infusing the CRP process with questions and assessments that help youth utilize extended foster care and access necessary resources, and that capture critical information on how well extended foster care is serving the youth. The goal is to respond to the unique needs of foster youth in the 18-21 year-old age group while gathering information that will enable FCR to effectively advocate for system-wide changes when necessary.

For more about youth in foster care and the phenomena of aging out, visit the Jim Casey Youth Opportunities Initiative website.