The transition from adolescence to adulthood is a time full of excitement, growth, and change. Critical brain development occurs during adolescence and early adulthood, and can be supported by strong and stable connections with family, friends, and community. With these supportive connections, young people can learn and grow into healthy adults. Youth and young adults with foster care experience often miss out on necessary resources, making it harder to locate safe and stable housing, find steady and meaningful employment, and build strong and positive relationships.
This report, prepared by Child Trends for the Better Housing Coalition and Children’s Home Society of Virginia, shares what we know about older youth transitioning from foster care (“transition-age youth”) in Virginia; describes federal data on youth outcomes in Virginia and other states; and details findings from a recent policy scan and national survey on services targeted to these youth. We organize the findings into six key service areas: 1) post-secondary education; 2) employment and career development; 3) financial capability; 4) safe, stable, and affordable housing; 5) health and mental health care; and 6) permanent relationships with supportive adults.
In this report, we highlight Virginia’s specific areas of strength in serving the transition-age youth population, as well as opportunities for growth.
Virginia’s main areas of strength
- There is a wide array of supports and services available in the state. Virginia is one of two states that reported offering each of the supports and services asked about in our survey. Although the supports and services are not all available statewide, this type of broad service array shows that at least some parts of the state are investing in and implementing critical services and supports for transition-age youth in education, employment, financial capability, housing, health care, and permanency.
- Youth outcomes in several areas are comparable to or better than in other states. Data from the National Youth in Transition Database (NYTD) show that in several areas, such as employment, high school graduation rates, and school attendance, transition-age youth in Virginia fare as well as or better than youth who have been in foster care nationally, though there is room for growth in other states as well. For example, the Midwest Study—the most widely recognized study of youth aging out of foster care over time—found that only 8 percent of young adults in the Midwest who have experienced foster care have a postsecondary degree at ages 25 and 26, compared to 46 percent of young adults in the general population. Keeping in mind this universal need for improvement, it is encouraging that Virginia does not lag behind the rest of the country in these key outcome areas.
- New supports beyond age 18 through Fostering Futures extend foster care. In 2016, Virginia joined 23 other states with formalized extended foster care plans using federal Title IV-E funding. Virginia’s “Fostering Futures” program will allow youth to remain in foster care to age 21. There are high rates of youth “aging out” of foster care. According to federal fiscal year 2014 data from the Adoption and Foster Care Analysis and Reporting System (AFCARS), Virginia had one of the highest percentages of youth exiting foster care due to age—also known as “emancipation”—in the country. One fifth of Virginia’s children and youth exiting foster care that year left due to emancipation, meaning they left care without a permanent, legal, familial relationship in place.
- Although the service array is rich, it is not available to all transition-age youth across the state. Nearly half of the services reported by Virginia are only available in certain areas of the state. This is particularly an issue for housing-related services asked about on our survey, none of which are available statewide.
- Services may not be grounded in a strong research base. Although the state reported using some promising programs that are based in research, generally the Virginia respondent was unaware of whether the services being provided had an evidence base or were research-informed. In addition to providing the most effective services possible for this vulnerable population, it is important to invest finite public funds in what we know works.
- Fostering Futures should be carefully monitored and supported. Fostering Futures, Virginia’s extended foster care program, was made available through an Appropriations Act (item 346 #3c) and included by the General Assembly in its final budget package (effective July 2016). State leaders and advocates will need to monitor implementation of the program to ensure that it receives adequate funding and reaches the target population in the state.
Based on these areas of strength and growth, we offer three overarching recommendations:
- Continue to monitor data and use it to inform decision-making. As the state works to implement Fostering Futures, it is critical that state leaders and stakeholders understand which young people are (and are not) choosing to remain in care, and how, or if, their outcomes improve when they remain. By closely monitoring data, stakeholders can monitor implementation, address any barriers or challenges to program participation, and design policy and practice strategies that address those challenges.
- Build and strengthen relationships across the state. Virginia’s county-administered child welfare system may present challenges for disseminating best practices and employing successful strategies in other areas of the state. However, building and reinforcing cross-county partnerships can broaden the service array, expand effective programs, and encourage areas of the state that have invested less in this population to invest more.
- Network and foster relationships with similarly situated states. As Fostering Futures is implemented, Virginia is poised to greatly expand the number of youth served as well as the services offered to the transition-age population. Peer learning can be instrumental in adding services or expanding services statewide, and in understanding how to unify a county-wide system. Connecting with states that have implemented Title IV-E extended foster care and states coordinating across a county-administered system may help Virginia leaders as they grow and shape the program.