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Model Court Day: Summit on Child Abuse and Neglect

Model Court Day Materials

The Transition to Adulthood for Foster

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The Transition to Adulthood 2011 MCD

A National Perspective: Prioritizing Social and Emotional Well-Being

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A National Perspective 2011 MCD

Legislation Would Allow Flexibility

Senator Ron Wyden

Sen. Ron Wyden (D-OR) has introduced legislation that would give states more flexibility in how they used federal funds for foster care. During Model Court Day in Salem he spent time with former foster youths, including Lauren Hoffman, to learn about their experiences.

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Midwest study shows former foster kids fare poorly


Young people who have aged out of foster care fare poorly when compared to their peers, according to Mark Courtney, a professor at the University of Chicago's School of Social Service Administration.

While making clear that he was not saying that foster care caused the poor outcomes, Courtney said results from the Midwest Evaluation of the Adult Functioning of Former Foster Youth study are "not what we can be proud of." Courtney, speaking at the Model Court Day: Summit on Child Abuse & Neglect, said the study clearly shows that "we need to do better."

The annual Model Court Day, hosted in August by the Oregon Judicial Department's Juvenile Court Improvement Program, draws judges and attorneys as well as volunteers who advocate for foster children in the courts and review dependency cases. Also attending this year were OJD's fellow partners in the effort to safely and equitably reduce the number of children in Oregon's foster care system, which includes the Department of Human Services, Oregon Commission on Children and Families, 11 counties, the federally recognized tribes and Casey Family Programs.

In welcoming participants, Judge Nan Waller, statewide convener for the partnership and presiding Circuit Court judge in Multnomah County, said children are too often unseen and unheard. "We are here today because we understand the responsibility to the individual child and our communities."

David Sanders, Ph.D. and executive director of systems improvement for Casey Family Programs, told the audience of about 300 that Oregon should be proud that the number of children in foster care has declined by 18 percent since 2005. Repeat maltreatment and re-entry also have declined. "This is an accomplishment for child welfare and judges," he said.

Courtney's remarks focused on the Midwest study, which he and his colleagues have used to track about 700 former foster children from Iowa, Wisconsin and Illinois. Baseline information was collected from the youth at age 17/18, and they were re-interviewed at ages 19, 21 and 23/24. On average, the participants entered foster care at age 13.5, meaning they had extensive connection with their biological families before entering care.

Following the most recently published interviews, researchers grouped the participants into three groups, whose titles describe their outcomes:

  • Accelerated adults (36 percent)-Most of this group (63 percent) are female, 98 percent have a high school diploma and 52 percent have some college; most likely employed; nearly half have children.
  • Struggling parents (25 percent)-Most of this group (74 percent) are female; 44 percent have a high school diploma; 91 percent have children living with them and 8 percent have children living elsewhere; only 25 percent are employed.
  • Emerging adults (21 percent)-More than half (55 percent) are male; 91 percent finished high school and 46 percent have some college; 63 percent are employed; all live with friend or relative.
  • Troubled and troubling (18 percent)-Most (83 percent) are male; 40 percent do not have a high school diploma or GED; 82 percent have been convicted of a crime as an adult; only 10 percent are employed; 48 percent have a child, but all of the children were living elsewhere.
Researchers also found that the participants maintained fairly strong connections with their biological families, signaling how important it is for caseworkers and others to pay attention to these relationships. At age 21, 61 percent had contact with their mother in the last month, 31 percent with their fathers, 46 percent with grandparents and 78 percent with siblings.

He emphasized that nothing he said should be interpreted to downplay the importance of seeking permanent homes for the youth even though placing older children is often complicated. He also urged a greater focus on the well-being of the youth while still in care.

The research, Courtney said, can help inform child welfare policy and practices. There is evidence, for example, that extending foster care until youth reach age 21-as Oregon has done-leads to youth continuing their educations and may increase their earning potential.

And, he said, youth clearly need more support as they transition out of care. Some need help as they become parents and about one-fifth need significant intervention to deal with psychosocial problems. There is a pressing need for a connection to a caring adult, he said, noting that about one-third report that they have no connection with a responsible adult "and here they are transitioning to adulthood themselves."

"Think about what you would want for your own adult child," he said. "And pay attention to the individual; one size does not fit all."