Four Ways to Better Support Young Adults Transitioning out of Foster Care

Congress established the John H. Chafee Foster Care Program for Successful Transition to Adulthood, known as Chafee, in 1999. That means the program, which provides support to assist young adults transitioning out of the foster care system, is now 23, the same age when a young person who’s experienced foster care stops receiving any federal support from the child welfare system.

Chafee was one of the first pieces of legislation to call attention to the distinct needs of young people transitioning out of the foster care system, also known as transition-age youth. It also shed light on the shortage of federal investments dedicated to this critical transition, when too many young adults struggle with unemployment, homelessness, and other challenges.

Yet, 23 years after the program’s inception, grim statistics continue to show an unsettling share of transition-age young adults struggle in these critical years. One in 3 experiences homelessness between ages 17 and 21, more than 2 in 5 are unemployed at age 21, and 1 in 5 has been incarcerated between ages 17 and 19. Adding to their responsibilities, some of these young adults are also parents: 1 in 10 by age 19 and 1 in 4 between ages 19 and 21.

Below we offer four lessons from 20 years of Urban research that could help Chafee better prepare transition-age young people for stability and success in adulthood.

Recognize young adults’ unique needs and experiences

All young people have different assets, skills, needs, and experiences, making one-size programming and services ineffective. For transition-age young people moving into employment, no single program will fit everyone. Though program models vary, the programs we have studied recognize that young adults often need supplementary supports—such as transportation, cell phones, child care, and housing—to make working possible.

Similarly, to allow students to concentrate on their education, programs for young people with foster care histories pursuing postsecondary education need to also provide supports related to housing, finances, relationships, health, and life skills. Ongoing coaching or similar models that employ people knowledgeable about programs, services, and systems can help young adults find, connect to, and navigate the resources necessary for success.


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