Impacts of Foster Youth Transitional Living Programs

SERVICES – COVENANT HOUSE CALIFORNIA
Example of TLP’s from Covenant House California.

Introduction

            According to the National Association of Social Workers (NASW) (2008), the primary mission of social workers is to enhance the lives of individuals who are vulnerable, oppressed, or living in poverty.  One of the most vulnerable, poverty stricken, and overlooked populations in the United States today is comprised of former foster children that have emancipated out of the foster care system.  For decades, an abundance of research has shown that adults who resided in foster care during their childhoods are at high risk for becoming involved in criminal behaviors (Barth, Duncan, Hodorowicz & Kum, 2010; Courtney, Hook, & Lee, 2012; Krinsky, 2010), holding low rates of employment (Stewart, Kum, Barth, & Duncan, 2014), having high rates of homelessness (Dworsky & Courtney, 2009), attaining low levels of educational achievement (Blome, 1997; Courtney & Dworsky, 2006; Pecora, 2006; Westat, 1991), and utilizing social welfare systems to a high degree (Dworsky, 2005) during their adult lives.  As evidence mounted, social workers involved in the child welfare system carried out their mission to advocate for this vulnerable population by searching for ways to help lessen the rates of negative societal outcomes experienced by former foster youth after they emancipated from foster care.  For more than 30 years, social workers and child welfare advocates have conducted numerous studies and implemented programs aimed at furthering understanding in the field of the environmental factors that caused these negative social outcomes with hopes to reduce the negative effects these environmental factors have on former foster children (Barbell & Freundlich, 2001; Hormuth 2001). 

            Over the last decade, social workers have begun advocating for the use of Transitional Living Programs (TLP) and Independent Living Programs (ILP) to be used in helping former foster youth that have emancipated out of the system (Catalog of Federal Domestic Assistance [CFDA], 2013).  The purpose of this literature review is to examine the effects that current TLP and ILP programs have shown in relation to helping this vulnerable population reduce its rates of unemployment, homelessness, criminal activity, low educational achievement, and social welfare dependency.Before examining current research on the effects TLP and ILP programs have on the aforementioned rates, this literature review will begin by giving a brief historical account of the efforts made over the last 30 years to correct these negative social outcomes, as well as a thorough examination of the prevalence of these problems in the former foster youth population.

Problem Description

Brief History of the Problem           

            In the early 1990s, social workers, congress, and other child welfare advocates began analyzing research that indicated that the negative outcomes of foster youth were caused by foster youth spending extended time in foster care without being given a permanent placement (Barbell & Freundlich, 2001; Hormuth 2001).  After reviewing the data, Congress created the Adoption and Safe Families Act of 1997 (P.L. 105-89) (ASFA) with the belief that by forcing child welfare agencies to ensure children were placed in permanent homes, within a shorter period of time than had been completed in the past, the delinquent behaviors and poor social outcomes of former foster youth would decrease (Barbell & Freundlich, 2001; H.R. 586, 1997; Hormuth, 2001).

            Within 10 years of the ASFA being enacted, the 15 month time restriction placed on social workers and child welfare agencies to find permanent placements for foster children proved itself to be a goal unobtainable by many agencies.  According to Artwood (2011), the average length of time a child in foster care awaits permanent placement is 38 months.  Artwood (2011) found that in 2009, 44,000 of the 115,000 children awaiting adoption had been in care for 3 years and 19,000 had been in foster care for more than 5 years.  In 2012, 399,546 children were in foster care (The Adoption and Foster Care Analysis and Reporting System [AFCARS], 2013).  Of the 399,546 children in foster care, 241,254 were either reunified with their families or aged out of the system.  Another 101,719 were in temporary placements awaiting adoption, and only 52,039 were adopted (AFCARS, 2012).  When the 15-month placement goal was met, it did not decrease negative outcomes experienced by former foster children during their adult lives (Artwood, 2011, Covenant House, 2013, H.R. 586, 1997).  To complicate matters further, in 1993, 43% of the 1,300 children who were killed by a family member were under supervision by social service agencies after having been recently reunified with their families (Bayle & Conan, 1995). 

            In the end, despite the efforts of the ASFA, hundreds of thousands of foster children have been found to languish in the foster care system for three to five years before a permanent home is found or the child emancipates out of the foster care system (AFCARS, 2013).  In response to the areas in which the ASFA failed, Congress passed into law the Fostering Connections to Success and Increasing Adoptions Act of 2008 (P.L. 110-351) (FCA) in an attempt to not only increase the adoption rates of children in care, but to also provide assistance to foster youth until they reach the age of 21 (H.R. 6893, 2008).  

Current Prevalence of the Problem

            National level. Six years since the passing of the FCA and 17 years since the ASFA was put into law, the overall goals of these acts, to decrease the negative outcomes for former foster children such as criminal involvement and social welfare dependency, have not occurred. When comparing the data of outcomes for former fosters in the 1990s to that of former fosters between the years of 2011 and 2013, it would appear that the negative situational outcomes of former fosters has only increased.  In 1991, studies found that 75% of individuals in correctional institutions in Connecticut were former foster children (Gladstone & McCarthy, 2011). Today, former foster children make up 80% of our nation’s prison population (Children’s Rights, 2013; Nunn, 2012).  In 1996, 21% of former foster children became homeless, whereas in 2012, 40% of former foster youth were found to be homeless (Covenant House, 2013; Tahoma, 1996).  In 1996, close to half of former foster youth were unemployed and 40% were on public assistance (Tahoma, 1996).    In 2013, 47% of former foster youth were found to be unemployed, (Children’s Rights, 2013) and in 2012, 67% were found to be using public assistance (Schaefer, 2012). 

            Recent statistical studies on the educational achievement of former foster children at the national level are needed.  One of the first national studies that investigated the adult outcomes for former foster children found that 60% of foster children emancipated out of the system without having finished their high school education, and very few completed their education after becoming adults (Westat, 1991).  A follow-up study conducted by Blome (1997) challenged this statistic.  Blome (1997) began a longitudinal study of 167 emancipating foster youth in 1981. This study found that 37% of these youth did not complete their high school degrees (Blome, 1997).  With these results, Blome (1997) determined that five years after dropping out of school, some of the former fosters completed their General Equivalency Diploma (GED), which brought the percentage of former foster youth without a high school diploma or GED down to 23%.  

            A recent study on national post-secondary educational achievements of former foster children (Pecora et al., 2006) found that two-fifths of former foster youth attended some form of post-secondary education, but only 20.6% of them completed their post-secondary education.  Pecora et al. (2006) also found that 2.7% of former foster youth, ages 25-33, obtained a bachelor’s degree which was very low for that decade when compared to the general population from which 24.4% obtained a bachelor’s degree (United States Census, 2000).

            Midwest region.  When looking at the educational attainment, employment statistics, and poverty levels, the findings of former foster youth at a regional level are similar to those found at the national level.  The National Association of Counties (NAC) (2008), reported the outcomes for former fosters in the Midwest in 2007.  A longitudinal study into the hardships endured by former fosters in the Midwest states of Illinois, Iowa and Wisconsin found that only 47% of former fosters who had recently emancipated were employed and 84% of those employed made less than $9.00 an hour (NAC, 2008).   This study also found that 40% of former fosters could not afford to buy clothing, 20% were unable to pay rent and 15% could not afford food (NAC, 2008).  In 2009 the same longitudinal study found that of 175 former foster youth 38% had obtained their GED, 10% had earned a high school diploma, and 30% had attended college or had an associate’s degree (Naccarato, Brophy & Courtney, 2010).

            Wisconsin. In the State of Wisconsin, social and economic outcomes for former foster children align with the results found at the national and regional levels.  Dworsky (2005) found that within the first two years of emancipating from foster care 82.5% of females and 78.3% of males were able to find some type of employment for a span of time lasting four months or more.  Though more than half of these former fosters were able to find employment, Dworsky (2005) found that only a small amount of these former foster youth were able to hold a job for periods lasting over eight months.  The types of jobs these former foster youth were employed in paid a mean and median wage that kept these individuals below the national poverty level for more than eight years after emancipating from the system (Dworsky, 2005).  These low wages and difficulty in maintaining stable employment resulted in 17% of former foster youth utilizing Wisconsin Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) and Wisconsin Aid to Families with Dependent Children (AFDC) services (Dworsky, 2005).  A third of former foster children in Wisconsin also utilized state food stamps during their first two years after emancipating from the system (Dworsky, 2005).

            Concern for social workers. For social workers working with current foster children and former foster youth, the studies reporting the likelihood of this population to experience economic hardship, starvation and homelessness is of a great concern.  As this vulnerable population moves from childhood to adulthood their difficulties in obtaining employment and finding work in a place which will pay them a livable wage can have drastic effects on the overall health and wellbeing of these individuals, as well as financial strains on the communities in which these individuals live. 

            When a social worker is obtaining competence for his or her work with individuals within the former foster community it is of great importance that he or she comprehends the consequences that the negative social outcomes of this population have on their environment at the micro, mezzo, and macro level.  The following section details the consequences of the negative social outcomes of former foster youth at the macro, micro, and mezzo levels by examining the affects within society at the national level, regional level, within communities, within families and on individual clients.

Consequences of the problem

            National consequences of low educational attainment, social welfare dependency and employment deficits of former fosters’.  In 2012, ten percent of children in foster care aged out of the system (AFCARS, 2013). That percentage represents 23,439 youth who entered the world as legal adults with no families of their own; 841 of them had been in an out of home placement for more than five years (AFCARS, 2013).  Former foster youths’ struggles as adults’ impact all people in the United States on a financial level.  Studies show that former foster youth have high levels of unemployment (Children’s Rights, 2013; Courtney & Dworsky, 2006), low levels of educational achievement (Blome, 1997; Courtney & Dworsky, 2006; Pecora, 2006; Westat, 1991), and a high utilization of social welfare dependency (Courtney & Dworsky, 2006).  These factors have contributed to the findings by Stangler (2013) which showed that the United States spends an average of $300,000 per former foster youth, during their adult life, on public assistance and incarceration costs.  With an average of 27,000 foster youth leaving the system each year (Stein, 2012) the estimated cost that a former foster youth, who aged out of the system in 2014, will have on the United States social welfare and prison system is $8,100,000,000.

            Our nation will be unable to keep up with the large costs of caring for our nation’s former foster population much longer (Ayres, 2013; Hightower, 2014).  In 2013 studies showed that the high rate of unemployment of youth from the U.S. general population will cause drastic financial problems for our nation in the near future (Ayres, 2013).  With fewer young adults working less money is being spent to stimulate the economy and fewer taxes are being collected by the government (Ayres, 2013; Hightower, 2014).  If something is not done to decrease the costs the former foster population have on the U.S. we may soon find that the programs created to help these youth will no longer be financed. 

            Regional consequences of low educational attainment, social welfare dependency and employment deficits of former fosters’.  Reports on the exact taxpayer costs utilized by former foster youth in the Midwest region either do not exist or are difficult to find.  Despite this lack of data, many individual studies done on the types of services used by former fosters in the Midwest region are able to give a general representation into how large these costs may be.  In 2002 Courtney and Dworsky began a longitudinal study of the adult outcomes of 732 former foster youth in Iowa, Illinois and Wisconsin (Courtney and Dworsky, 2006).  By the time the youth in this study reached the age of 19, a third of the participants in this study had neither a high school diploma nor a GED (Courtney & Dworsky, 2006).  While 90% of the former foster youth in the study reported having had a job within the previous year, only 40% were employed at the time the 2006 follow up study was done (Courtney & Dworsky, 2006).

            Of those former foster youth who were employed, 90% made less than $10,000 a year and three-quarters made less than $5,000 a year (Courtney & Dworsky, 2006).  The low incomes of these youth had resulted in 13.8% of them being homeless during the year prior to the 2006 follow up study (Courtney & Dworsky, 2006).  At the time of the 2006 interview, it was discovered that 48.5% of the 19 year old females and 24.5% of the male participants had relied on government assistant programs such as Food Stamps, public housing, rental assistance, TANF, Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants and Children (WIC), Supplemental Security Income (SSI), emergency assistance payments, and other general assistance payments during the first two years following their emancipation from the foster system (Courtney & Dworsky, 2006).

            Federal and state assistance programs created to help individuals obtain life basics such as food and housing are not the only programs and services being used by these youth.  One-third of the participants in the study were found to suffer from a severe form of mental illness such as depression, post-traumatic stress disorder, social phobia, substance use, substance dependence and more (Courtney & Dworsky, 2006).   Though one-third of the former fosters were found to have a form of mental illness, only one-fifth of the participants had received counseling due to lack of health insurance or money to pay for care.  This data went on to show that while these former foster youth utilized minimal state funding for mental health treatment the consequences of this lack of care resulted in many of these youth going to emergency rooms for treatment of emotional, psychological or drug related problems (Courtney & Dworsky, 2006).  Due to lack of insurance the costs of these hospital bills on the former foster youth and the medical systems in their area of residence may be immense.

            Community consequences of low educational attainment, social welfare dependency and employment deficits of former fosters’.  Former foster youth’s low rates of high school graduation and post-secondary education may affect the economic climate of the communities they work in.  A study conducted by Van (2011) found that employers are willing to pay higher wages on individuals who have obtained a high level of education.  When an employer sees that their workers have obtained a high school diploma, or a higher degree, they are willing to invest more into keeping that individual within the company and are willing to pay them a higher wage (Van, 2011).  When an employee is paid a livable wage they do not need to rely on social services such as housing and food stamps to survive.  If Van’s (2011) findings are applicable to all areas of the United States then former fosters’ who receive a higher level of education would receive higher wages.  With higher wages former fosters’ would not utilize as many community help programs.  With more money to spend these former foster youth would be able to contribute to their communities and the economy by spending money and increasing the wealth of the community.

            The consequences of unemployment and low wage earnings among former foster youth in communities may be unseen by the general public.  As mentioned earlier, low wages and unemployment have been shown to cause mental health problems for individuals as well as a high utilization of social welfare systems (Coffee, 2003; Courtney & Dworsky, 2006; Dodson, & Albelda, 2012; Van, 2011).  While former fosters’ usage of community services, such as food stamps, are generally known their strain on community mental health centers and local hospitals is not in the public light (Courtney & Dworsky, 2006; Lo & Wo, 2011).  A study conducted by Lo and Woo (2011) found that the stress of economic hardships on unemployed individuals causes a greater usage of psychiatric emergency services and hospitalization.  Lo and Woo (2011) recommend that to combat the high usage of emergency psychiatric services utilized by unemployed individuals more funding and policy efforts aimed at mental health care of unemployed individuals need to be enacted within communities.

            A social worker working with unemployed or low wage earning former fosters’ needs to be aware of the effect these circumstances may have not only on the clients mental health, but also on the costs the community may incur from treating these individuals when their mental health issues go unaddressed.  If a social worker notes that their client is a former foster youth who is dealing with unemployment, and he or she is earning a low wage, referring the client to mental health services for preventative mental health care may save the community funds that would be incurred by treating the individual at a hospital or psychiatric emergency center later on. 

            Family consequences of low educational attainment, social welfare dependency and employment deficits of former fosters’.  The familial consequences of the high unemployment rates and low wage earnings of former foster youth are substantial.   Numerous studies have correlated a link between low family earnings and high dropout rates among high school students (Cooperman, 2000; Dodson, & Albelda, 2012).  According to Dodson and Albelda (2012) of the 1.3 million students that drop out of high school each year, more than half of them come from families that earn a low wage.  Since former foster youth earn low wages (Courtney & Dworsky, 2006), their children are at a high risk for dropping out of high school.  Because of this correlation between low wages and high school dropout rates, the problem of low wages experienced by former fosters (Courtney & Dworsky, 2006) poses a risk of creating a generational cycle of low earnings and low educational achievement within their families.  To combat this possible generational cycle, social workers working with families from which the parents are unemployed or earn a low wage should work to provide the youth from these families services that will decrease the youths likelihood of dropping out of school. 

            Client consequences of low educational attainment, social welfare dependency and employment deficits of former fosters’.  Research into the level of education received by former foster youth has shown that a high proportion of former foster youth do not obtain a high school diploma or GED (Blome, 1997; Courtney & Dworsky, 2006; Pecora, 2006; Westat, 1991).  Low levels of education have been linked to individuals earning low wages and having a greater risk for job instability and mental health problems (Coffee, 2003; Dodson, & Albelda, 2012; Van, 2011).  According to Coffee (2003), individuals who earn low wages are at high risk for developing mental and physical health problems.  Coffee (2003) reported that due to low wages, a lack of mental health, and physical health coverage, individuals working for minimal pay are more likely to lose their jobs and become unemployed.  Courtney and Dworsky (2006) found that the prevalence of mental illness is higher among former foster youth than it is in the general population.  When looking at the high percentage of former foster youth that have a mental illness and earn a low wage, the probability of these individuals becoming ill or losing their jobs is high.

            A social worker working with a former foster youth should obtain as much information about their client’s educational achievements, wage earnings, and mental health status as possible.  If a client is found to lack a high school diploma or GED, the social worker should focus on helping the client obtain their GED and see if any post-secondary education options may be a possible for the client.  If the social worker is able to help the client achieve a higher level of education the chances of him or her finding a job, which will pay a living wage, will be greater.  If the client is able to earn a decent wage the chances of him or her becoming dependent on food stamps or other social welfare services will diminish. 

            When a social worker’s client is an unemployed former foster youth who did not graduate from high school or obtain a GED focusing only on finding a job for that client will not be effective.  The most effective way to help this client would be in a twofold approach of helping the client obtain mental health services, and increasing his or her education level.  The higher level of education will help the client become employed at a job with a livable wage; the mental health services will reduce the risk of the client losing his or her job for reasons relating to mental illness or psychological stress.

            National consequences of criminal activity.  To gain a partial understanding of the expenses former foster youth have on the United States tax payers each year, reviewing the incarceration costs of former foster youth across the nation is beneficial.  In 2010, the United States spent more than $38,903,304 to cover the costs of incarceration in all 50 states.  With former foster youth comprising 80% of the national prison population (Children’s Rights, 2013; Nunn, 2012) $31,122,643.20 tax dollars was spent to cover incarceration costs of former foster youth in the prison system.

            Regional consequences of criminal activity.  Between the years of 2002 and 2006, 28% of the former foster youth in the aforementioned Midwest Study were arrested and one-fifth of the participants had been incarcerated (Courtney & Dworsky, 2006).  Though no direct link between the costs of the youth from this study and the expenses within the prison system have been made, a general idea of the costs can be divined when reviewing the average annual expenditures generated per inmate within the states this study was conducted in. 

            In Wisconsin, the average cost per inmate is $37,994 a year (Henrichson & Delaney, 2012).  In Iowa the average cost of an inmate per year is $32,925 and in Illinois the average cost per inmate each year is $38,268 (Henrichson & Delaney, 2012).  Since the Midwest study does not state how many individuals from the study were incarcerated within each state, the following will make the assumption that an equal number of study participants were incarcerated in each state.  Since 20% of the former fosters in the study (Courtney & Dworsky, 2006) were arrested that means a total of 146 individuals were incarcerated.  If 48.8 of those foster youth were incarcerated in each state, and the costs of incarceration in 2006 were the same as they were in 2012, the costs of incarceration in each of the states would have been as follows: Wisconsin spent $1,854,107.20 on incarceration of 48.8 former fosters; Iowa spent $1,606,740 and Illinois spent $1,867,478.40 on incarceration of the former fosters from the Midwest study.   The total costs for incarcerating 146 former foster youth in these three states would have been around $5,328,326 tax payer dollars.

            While the total costs of incarcerating 146 former foster youth was more than five-million dollars the estimated actual costs are much higher.  In 2012, total incarceration costs for the three states in the Midwest study were as follows: Wisconsin spent $874,421, Illinois spent $1,743,153 and Iowa spent $276,039 (Henrichson & Delaney, 2012).  The total incarceration expenses in these three states totals $2,893,693.  If Wisconsin, Illinois and Iowa prisons have a former foster population of 80%, per the prison population nationwide (Childrens Rights, 2013; Nunn, 2013)  then the cost of incarcerating former foster youth in these three states, in 2006, would have been about $2,314,890.

            Community consequences of criminal activity.  Criminal activity among the population of former foster youth has been shown to occur at a higher rate than that of the general population (Cusick et al., 2012).  Costs associated with prosecuting and imprisoning individuals involved in felonious activities are high.  In the State of Wisconsin the cost of incarcerating an individual is $37,994 a year (Henrichson & Delaney, 2012).  Since former youth have been shown to be arrested or imprisoned at higher rates than that of the general population (Cusick et al., 2012) the financial impact of prosecuting and incarcerating former foster youth is a high cost for local communities.  Social workers working with former foster youth who have a history of criminal activities should work to decrease the negative financial affects these individuals can have on the community by referring the clients to programs which will decrease the likelihood of them continuing their involvement in felonious behaviors.

            Family consequences of criminal activity.  Studies have found that the prevalence of poverty, aggression, low educational achievement and criminal activity seem to pass, within families, from one generation to another (Cooperman, 2000).  Since former foster youth have been found to have low levels of educational achievement (Blome, 1997; Courtney & Dworsky, 2006; Pecora, 2006; Westat, 1991), high levels of criminal activity (Cusick et al., 2012), and a high utilization of social welfare programs (Courtney & Dworsky, 2006), it is important for social workers to pay particular attention to areas of poverty, criminal involvement, and educational struggles within a family.  If a family has a history of aggression, criminal behavior, struggles from poverty, or low educational achievement that results in limited employment options, the children in the family are at risk for carrying these problems over to their own families when they have children (Cooperman, 2000).

            Client consequences of criminal activity.  Within two years of emancipating from foster care about 28% of former foster youth will be arrested or incarcerated (Courtney & Dworsky, 2006).  By the age of 24, 46% of former foster youth have been arrested or incarcerated (Cusick, Havlicek, & Courtney, 2012).  When comparing the rates of crime among young foster youth against the crime rates of the general population, it has been found that 57% former foster males ages 17-18 have been arrested while only 20% of same age males from the general population were arrested (Cusick et al., 2012).  Of former foster care females, aged 17-18, an average of 34% have been arrested, which is also a higher percentage rate than the 3% of the general population of females in the same age group (Cusick et al., 2012).  Studies have shown that the higher level of education a foster child receives, the lower the chance of them becoming involved in criminal activity (Cusick et al., 2012).

            If a social worker finds him or herself working with a youth or adult from the former foster population that has previously committed a crime, it is important that the social worker note that this is not an atypical behavior for individuals from this population.  The social worker needs to utilize the NASW (2008) value of Competency and research the most current evidence into the causes of crime among this population.  A social worker who utilizes Competency will find that working with the client on his or her behaviors will not diminish the likelihood of the client committing a crime in the future (Cusick et al., 2012).  The best method for helping a client with a criminal record from the former foster population would be to help the client find a stable job, attain a higher level of education, and work on substance abuse related issues (Cusick et al., 2012).

            National and community consequences of former foster homelessness.  Studies show that 40% of former foster youth become homeless at least one time during their lifetime and that these individuals are more likely to become involved in drug use, have a mental health issue and be involved in life threatening behaviors (Covenant House, 2013; Hudson, & Nandy 2012).  The negative effects of homelessness, drug use, and risky behaviors such as unprotected sex can have drastic effects on communities.  Since unprotected sex places individuals at high risk for aids and other sexually transmitted infections (STI), individuals from this population may end up draining funds form a community’s medical system when they seek treatment for a STI.  Former foster youth who are homeless will also utilize community resources in the forms of shelter care, food stamps, substance abuse programs, criminal arrests, incarcerations, and more. 

            A social worker who is working with clients who are former fosters’ and homeless need to pay attention to the types of risky behaviors their clients are involved in, the mental health status of the clients and the number of times the individual has been homeless during their lifetime.  If homeless former foster youth are not given resources to help combat substance abuse, mental health issues, and participation in risky behaviors, such as unprotected sex, these individuals my become chronic users of public social welfare services, and hospitals, which will be a financial drain on the community.

            Family consequences of former foster homelessness.  A study of homeless families in Washington D.C. found that families with a history or drug use were at a higher risk for chronic homelessness and mental health problems (Howard, Cartwright, & Barajas, 2009).  Previous studies into the drug use and other unhealthy behaviors of homeless former foster youth have found that this population is more likely to utilize drugs and have mental health related issues than the general population (Covenant House, 2013; Hudson, & Nandy 2012).  The high risk homeless former fosters’ have for utilizing drugs seen in tandem with the findings of Howard et al., (2009) that show the risk of a homeless family, with one or more parent having been a foster child, of suffering from chronic homelessness is high.  Because of these risk factors social workers, working with a homeless family in which one or more member has a history of being placed in foster care and/or a history of substance abuse, need to invest time and resources into providing the family with substance abuse resources.  Providing the members of the family who do not have substance abuse issues in preventative counseling, and the drug user in a drug treatment program, will help to decrease the risk this family possesses for chronic homelessness (Howard et al., 2009).

            Client consequences of former foster homelessness.   A study of 156 homeless individuals who utilize homeless shelters, in Washington DC found that 30% of these individuals had spent time in foster care during their youth (Hudson, & Nandy, 2012).  In this study, Hudson and Nandy (2012) compared the rates of risky behaviors within the group of homeless former foster youth against the homeless individuals who had never spent time in foster care.  The findings of this study concluded that homeless former foster youth were more likely to use drugs, have unprotected sex, lack a high school education and suffer from mental illness than the population of homeless individuals who did not spend time in foster care.  

            The results of this study show that a social worker working with homeless clients from the former foster care population need to be particularly aware of the heightened risk factors their clients have for becoming involved in risky behaviors, as well as their high risk for mental health issues.  If a social worker only focuses on finding the client a home, other potential risks for the client will not be addressed which may result in the client becoming homeless again in the future.   

How the United States Contributes to the Problem

            In the past the problems of former foster youths’ high levels of criminal activity, homelessness, social welfare dependency, low levels of employment, and educational attainment have typically been examined to find the causes of these individuals’ problems.  Very little research has been done into finding the ways that our society, and the experiences foster youth have while in the system, may be contributing to the problem.

            Many individuals believe that the foster system is beneficial to the youth placed within it because the children placed in out of home care are given counseling services and psychiatric attention which will help them cope with the negative effects caused by the abuses and neglect they experienced in their homes (Collins, 2005).  It is believed that time in foster care will give youth a safe environment in which they can grow in a healthy way and it will allow them to function well as adults (Collins, 2005).  Under close scrutiny, this belief appears to be idealistic at best and lacks a base in factuality. 

            Research has shown that children in foster care experience physical and sexual abuse at higher rates than that of children in the normal populace (National Coalition for Child Protection Reform, 2011).  Every year, thousands of foster children run away from their foster homes (Ryan, 2013; Lowry, 2013) and one-hundred-thousand foster care runaways become victims of sex-trafficking (Sciortino, 2012).  Children in foster care do not receive adequate mental health care and as a result they have the highest rate of mood disorders, mental health issues, and substance abuse than any other population in the United States (Artwood, 2011; Grimm & Darwall, 2005; Zill, 2011). 

            While the abuses suffered by foster youth in the foster system are hypothesized to contribute to the problems they have in their adult lives, some argue that this is a socially sanctioned occurrence which allows private agencies to profit off the youth in care (Radel, 2005).  Radel (2005) believes that children are being removed from their homes for profit instead of the child’s welfare, which is substantiated by Gafford (2010) who found that in private foster care agencies some executives are paid up to $310,000 a year for their work in child welfare.  In the 2002 fiscal year, Radel (2005), found $419,000,000 federal dollars were used by state child welfare agencies for administrative costs. Many of these States were unable to account for the spending of $700,000,000 federal dollars (Radel, 2005).

            When looking at the rates of abuse foster youth experience within the foster care system, as well as the evidence of possible corruption in the administrative levels of the foster system, an outside observer may surmise that the maltreatment of foster youth is a socially sanctioned occurrence.  The foster system is unable to protect foster youth from the types of abuse it was created to shelter youth from while executives profit from removing children from their homes and placing them in new dangerous places, the foster system itself could be said to contribute to the negative behaviors exhibited by former foster youth during their adult lives. 

            Due to the abuse foster youth experience in the foster system, as well as the lack of funding the foster system has in giving these youth the mental health services and job skills they need to succeed, many professionals in the field of social welfare are calling for the creation of TLP and ILP services that will provide former foster youth with the high educational attainment, preventative mental health services, and job skills training needed to enable these individuals to support themselves and thrive during their adult lives (Courtney, et al., 2011; Georgiades 2005; Montgomery, Donkoh, & Underhill 2006).

Etiology

            There are many theories which delve into explaining why the former foster youth population has high levels of criminal activity, social welfare dependency, and homelessness, while also holding low levels of educational achievement and employment.  The following sections will briefly explain some of those theories.

Criminal Activity

            One of the most commonly held beliefs for why former foster youth become involved in criminal activity is based upon studies done in the 1990s that found that individuals who were subjected to maltreatment during their youth are more likely to become criminals as adults (Lee, 2012).  While this theory is a popular one, it does not hold much weight when compared against the evidence.  Even though a higher proportion of former foster youth become involved in criminal activity than the general population, the percent of involvement is 46% of the former foster population (Cusick et al., 2012).  Since the overwhelming majority of foster youth are in foster care because of issues of maltreatment and neglect, one would expect a higher number of former foster youth to have criminal histories.

            Another explanation for why former foster youth become involved in criminal activity is that emancipated foster youth have higher levels of criminal activity because of the abrupt transition they have from childhood to adulthood (Lee, 2012).  Lee (2012) proposes that the lack of time a foster youth has to transition from youth to adulthood causes high amounts of stress and poor decision making (Lee, 2012).   Lee found that foster youth who became legal adults before finishing high school, without any form of family support, were more likely to become involved in drugs and delinquent behaviors.

            Bost (2008) offers an explanation into the high rates of criminal activity among former foster youth which closely resembles the theories which shaped the ASFA.  According to Bost (2008), former foster youth who are exposed to numerous home placements, and youth who linger in care for an extended period of time, are more likely to become involved in criminal activities.  Bost’s (2008) explanation closely resembles the findings of past theories of poor former foster youth outcomes from the early 1990s (Barbell & Freundlich, 2001; Hormuth 2001).  Bost (2008) did find a correlation between crime rate and extended time in foster care coupled with maltreatment experiences from the foster parents. 

            While Bost’s findings on the correlation between extended time in foster care and childhood maltreatment align with past research on the reasons for former foster youth’s criminal involvement, more studies are needed to understand the strength of the correlation between childhood abuse, foster care abuse, extended time in foster care, and criminal activity.  Since the passing of the ASFA in 1997 (P.L. 105-89), social welfare workers have worked to prove this correlation by showing that a decreased amount of time in care would decrease criminal activity (Barbell & Freundlich, 2001; H.R. 586, 1997; Hormuth, 2001).   Thus far, efforts to decrease a foster youth’s time in care has been ineffective in decreasing the problem (Children’s Rights, 2013; Gladstone & McCarthy, 2011; Nunn, 2012; Schaefer, 2012). 

Educational Achievement, Employment, Homelessness and Social Welfare Dependency

            Studies have shown that former foster youth do not attain high levels of education and tend drop out of high school soon after turning 18 (Blome, 1997; Courtney & Dworsky, 2006; Pecora, 2006; Westat, 1991).  Former foster youth’s low levels of education can be linked to causing a higher rate of unemployment and low wage earnings within the former foster population as well as mental health issues (Coffee, 2003; Dodson, & Albelda, 2012; Van, 2011).  The low wages earned by former foster youth and the large percentage of unemployment in this population can be used to explain its high levels of homelessness and social welfare dependency (Courtney & Dworsky, 2006).

            Social workers and child welfare advocates working within the foster care population have spent years attempting to find out why such a high percentage of former foster youth drop out of school.  It was believed that if the reasons for why youth discontinued their education could be found a dropout prevention program could be created.  When looking at the causes of homelessness, unemployment, low wages and social welfare usage in the former foster population, all of these issues seem to be caused by a lack of education.  Over the last decade, a few theories have emerged which attempt to explain why foster children and former foster youth do not thrive in the academic world or strive to achieve post-secondary education.

            According to Smith (2007), the reasons for foster youth dropping out of school are numerous and complex and begin shortly after entering care.  Many foster youth are misdiagnosed as being in need of special education upon entering the foster care system because of behavioral traits they exhibit which are caused by environmental circumstances and not by a learning deficit (Smith, 2007).   Once former foster youth are placed in a special education program, only 2% of foster youth return to regular classrooms, which is low when compared to the 10% of students from the general population which are allowed to return (Smith, 2007).  Foster youth are expelled and suspended at higher rates than youth from the general population, which causes missed class time and falling behind in school (Smith, 2007).  Foster youth are more likely to hold a C grade average while the general population holds a B/C average (Smith, 2007).  Smith (2007) states that these negative school experiences lead to youth viewing education in a negative way which causes them to quit school once they are of age.

            Another theory as to why foster youth drop out of school is that they do not receive academic help from their teachers.  According to Rosenfeld and Richman (2003), foster youth that do not have serious educational deficits, but are struggling at a marginal level, are often ignored by teachers and consequently do not receive the help they need to succeed, which leads to them being held back in school. This practice, of not helping foster youth that are marginally struggling, may contribute to the 26%-46% of former foster youth that repeat one or more grade levels (Smith, 2007).

            The most common theory as to why foster youth do poorly in academics during their youth is centered on the belief that attending multiple schools results in them falling behind (Vera Institute, 2003).  By the time a foster child has reached the age of 18, they have transferred to a handful of schools and are unable to meet the requirements needed to graduate from school (Vera Institute, 2003). While the constant transitions from one school to another are hard, the Vera Institute (2003) found that foster youth were more likely to be subjected to discrimination by their teachers and that educators also held fewer expectations of academic success from foster youth.  Teachers low educational expectations of youth combined with the negative behaviors of these educators’ towards foster youth, and the multiple school moves, are thought to be the most probable causes of foster youth’s low academic achievement.

            While most theories for the low educational achievements in the former foster youth community are believed to be caused by childhood trauma and adverse school experiences, other theories exist which point to the a lack of mentors and positive role models in foster children’s lives as well as a fast transition into adulthood as being the cause (Lee, 2012; Montgomery, et al., 2006; Sommer, 2013).  Proponents of this theory believe that by extending the amount of time a youth can spend in care, while also providing them with services that help them finish high school and attend a post-secondary institution, they will be more likely to achieve higher levels of education (Lee, 2012; Montgomery, et al., 2006; Sommer, 2013).  Some of the services which are believed to help foster youth finish high school and move on to higher education are TLP and ILP services (Atukpawu, 2010; Milum, 2012; Montgomery, et al., 2006; Sommer, 2013).

Summary of Problem Description

            Despite the failings of the FCA and ASFA to reduce the percentage of former foster children who become homeless, criminals, unemployed, dependent on social welfare services, or high school dropouts, the FCA and ASFA are still working to correct these societal issues.  One way that the ASFA is working to improve the adult outcomes of former foster youth is through the Adoption Assistance Plan (AAP) (Children’s Bureau, 2012).   Through the Adoption Assistance Plan, which is funded by $2,160,000,000 federal dollars per year, a state may apply for Child Welfare Waivers (CWW) which allow them to use federal dollars, in innovative ways, to create systems for improving the child placement rates within that state (Children’s Bureau, 2012; Children’s Bureau, 2013). Some states use CWW’s to implement programs which change the poor behaviors within families that led to their children being placed in foster care (Bell, 2013).  Six states work to teach at-risk-families healthy habits before their children are removed from home (Bell, 2013).  Other states have used CWW’s to implement TLP and ILP services for current and emancipating foster youth (Bell, 2013).

            The current efforts to improve the social outcomes of former foster youth during their adult lives are the creation of TLP and ILP centers in communities throughout the country has shown a variation of minimal and substantial success in decreasing the negative outcomes experienced by former foster youth (Atukpawu, 2010; Youth Villages, 2012).  The remainder of this paper will examine Evidence-Based Research (EBR) which has investigated the effects that TLP and ILP services have had on the decreasing rates of homelessness, criminal activity, unemployment levels, and dependence on social welfare services of former foster youth, while also increasing their educational achievement and wage earnings.  After examining the literature on TLP and ILP services, this paper will finish by listing what the best plan of action for reducing the negative outcomes of former foster youth would be in accordance with the current EBR methods.

Transitional Living Services

Intervention Description

            Before 1997, no nationwide intervention programs aimed at reducing the negative social outcomes of former foster youth, in the areas of education, employment, homelessness, criminal involvement, and social welfare dependency, were in practice.  In an attempt to combat the aforementioned negative social outcomes experienced by former foster youth, the 106th Congress passed into law the Foster Care Independence Act of 1999 (P.L. 106-169) (FCIA) in order to provide states with funding that would allow them to support emancipated foster youth with transitional living services in the form of TLP’s, ILP’s, and adoption support funds, up to the age of 21 (H.R. 3553, 1999).  This act was created to intervene in the negative social outcomes of former foster youth by providing them with transitional living services that would better prepare these youth to live life as successful adults (H.R. 3553, 1999).  The most influential provisions of the act, which are aimed at decreasing the negative social outcomes for former foster youth, are the grants it provided to states for the creation of transitional living services such as TLP’s and ILP’s, adoption incentives for families, funding for education training, job skills training, money provided to pay for room and board of former foster youth up to the age of 21, and expansion of Medicaid coverage to the age of 21 (H.R. 3553, 1999).  Each of these new services and types of funding are provided to states under FCIA with the provision that each state monitor the overall affect that these services have on reducing the negative social outcomes of former foster youth. 

            After the passing of FCIA (P.L. 106-169) states began working to create TLP and ILP programs that were tailored to meet the needs of youth in their specific localities.  Due to differences in demographics, and the differing needs of individuals in specific communities, ILP’s and TLP’s are designed in uniquely specific ways to meet the needs of the populations they serve.  Though differences exist in the form of operation of each TLP and ILP, all programs operates under the same mission, to provide former foster youth with the resources necessary to help them become fully functioning, financially stable, independent adults (H.R. 3553, 1999). In areas where TLP’s and ILP’s are not easily created, funding is provided for foster families to adopt these youth with the expectation that they will allow the youth to live with them until they are financially secure, have obtained the education and job skills necessary to successfully live as independent adults, or reach the age of 21 (H.R. 3553, 1999).  While the missions of TLP’s, ILP’s, and adoption of former foster adults are the same, the ways each transitional living service operates is slightly different and those differences may cause different long term effects for the former foster youth who participate in these programs.  The following paragraphs will briefly describe the ways in which each of these programs operate.

Transitional Living Programs (TLP)

            TLP’s provide former foster youth with a variety of different living opportunities.  Youth can enter into a TLP at the age of 16 and may choose to live in their own apartment, with a roommate, in a group home facility, or with a foster family (Department of Family and Protective Services [DFPS], 2014; The Teen Project, 2013; Transitional Aged Youth Services [TAY], 2010). 

            When participating in a TLP, former foster youth agree to meet with social workers and TLP managers on a weekly to bi-weekly basis (DFPS, 2014; The Teen Project, 2013; TAY Services, 2010).  During meetings with program heads, the former foster youth are given trainings on proper nutrition, are taught cooking skills, learn how to balance a checkbook, become aware of their tenant rights, and are they are instructed on how to locate and obtain community resources such as public transportation, medical assistance, and food stamps (DFPS, 2014; The Teen Project, 2013; TAY Services, 2010). 

            Learning how to successfully live on their own are only some of the skills taught to youth in TLP.  Former foster youth in TLP’s are also mandated to take job skills classes, finish their high school education or obtain their GED, and look into the possibility of obtaining a degree or certificate above that of a high school diploma and/or GED (DFPS, 2014; The Teen Project, 2013; TAY Services, 2010). While the youth in TLP’s work on completing these mandates the programs support them by paying a portion of the youth’s rent, utilities, or other bills (DFPS, 2014; The Teen Project, 2013; TAY Services, 2010).  By financially supporting these youth while they finish their high school career, pursue job skills training and acquire a form of higher education, the youth are able to focus on mastering these key steps for independence and financial security during their adult lives.  If the youth were working full time to support themselves during their educational pursuits, they would not be able to put as much focus on these tasks and would then be at risk for dropping out of school due to financial difficulties.

            The final services offered to youth by TLP’s come in the form of medical services.  TLP staff work with the former foster youth in their care to help them obtain medical coverage as well as find doctors and mental health professionals in near their place of residence (DFPS, 2014; The Teen Project, 2013; TAY Services, 2010).  As was mentioned earlier in this document, a large percentage of former foster youth struggle with mental health problems which can lead to homelessness, drug dependency and criminal behaviors.  TLP’s work to prevent these negative mental health outcomes by providing these youth with care before their mental health complications become problematic and detrimental to their financial independence and overall wellbeing. 

Independent Living Programs (ILP)

            ILP’s are different from TLP’s in that the individuals participating in them may still be in foster care, might have been adopted, or are currently living on their own (Child Welfare League of America [CWLA], 2011).  While individuals participating in TLP’s are emancipated, foster youth and legally independent adults, former foster youth in ILP programs are typically supported by a family of state facility and will be living on their own in the near future (CWLA, 2011).  Some of the participants in ILP’s may be independent, legally emancipated adults (CWLA, 2011).  Former foster youth who emancipated out of the system and are living on their own may apply to receive ILP services up to the age of 21 (CWLA, 2011).

            ILP’s offer the same types of support for former foster youth that TLP’s do in the forms of financial support for housing, help in obtaining medical insurance, help locating a physician, assistance in finishing high school, support obtaining a GED, and help pursuing higher education (CWLA, 2011).  Though the services offered by ILP’s are near identical to TLP’s, the main difference is ILP’s focus on teaching former foster youth the skills necessary to live independently(CWLA, 2011).  In ILP’s more focus is placed on teaching job skills and general finance management skills (CWLA, 2011).  Individuals participating in ILP programs are more likely to be given a list of the types of resources they need and are then expected to reach out to those agencies on their own while participants in TLP programs are more likely to receive personal assistance while contacting the agencies they are in need of services from (CWLA, 2011).

Adoption Assistance to age 21

            The third type of service which can be included in studies that investigate the effects of TLP and ILP services is not a program at all, but rather an adoptive family.   FCIA allows states to pay adoptive families for adoption if they adopt an older foster child and allow him or her to live in their home until the age of 21 (H.R. 3553, 1999).  During the time that the youth live in these adoptive homes it is expected that these adoptive homes are assisting former foster youth in obtaining their high school degrees and GED’s, while helping these youth obtain employment and learn job skills that will allow them to be financially stable and independent adults when they reach the age of 21 (CWLA, 2011; H.R. 3553, 1999).  An important factor to note is that adopted former foster youth are offered Medicaid but are not pushed to receive mental health screenings with the same intensity that former foster youth in TLP’s and ILP’s are (CWLA, 2011). 

            Though ILP’s, TLP’s and adoptive homes are all considered forms of transitional living services under FCIA, the following section of this paper will focus on TLP’s and ILP’s as the main forms of transitional living services and intervention method offered to emancipating foster youth.  There are four reasons for why the author of this paper has chosen to do this. The first reason is that in 2013, 23,439 youth emancipated from care (AFCARS, 2013).  As mentioned earlier, the population of former foster youth who have the highest rates of homelessness, criminal behavior, social welfare dependency, and low educational achievement are those who emancipate from the system.  Since the emancipated population is the group that has the greatest difficulty, the author has decided to focus on the transitional living services that target this population specifically.

            The second reason is that the emotional stressors and environmental circumstances experienced by individuals living in a home environment versus living independently are very different.  Individuals living in adoptive homes have resources available to them in the form of familial support, which the youth in ILP and TLP programs do not. 

            The third reason for why the author has chosen to focus on ILP and TLP services is that the majority of studies done on transitional living services successes in helping to reduce the negative social consequences’ of low educational attainment, homelessness, social welfare dependency, and high criminal involvement were conducted within ILP and TLP program centers.  

            The fourth reason for which the author has decided not to include adoptive homes in the following review of transitional living services is due to the undocumented differences in care that youth in a home receive in comparison to the former youth involved in TLP’s and ILP’s.  A former foster youth in an adoptive home may live in a more nurturing or a more threatening and unhealthy environment than youth in a TLP or ILP and these undocumented environmental differences cannot be measured. Also treatment methods may be mandated upon adoptive foster homes but lack of honest reporting may skew the results.

Theory

            The 106th Congress passed FCIA (P.L. 106-169)  into law after reviewing evidence which, at the time, suggested that providing former foster youth with transitional living services and financial help as they entered into adulthood would decrease the likelihood of these youth becoming criminals, social welfare dependents, homeless, and from dropping out of school (Carroll, 2002; H.R. 3553, 1999).  The driving theory of FCIA is that by providing foster youth at risk for emancipation, and emancipating foster youth, with financial assistance and affordable housing they will be able to finish their high school degrees, pursue higher education, obtain stable housing, and learn professional job skills that will allow them to become employed and maintain that employment (Carroll, 2002).

            The implementation of transitional living services begins by targeting foster youth who are at risk for emancipation when they are 14 years of age (Carroll, 2002).   During this time, these youth are enrolled in programs which are designed to help them learn job skills by employing them at a local business part-time during the summer, by enrolling them in classes which focus on reading skills, math skills, and by teaching these youth how to open bank accounts, save money, and write a resume (Carroll, 2002; Child Welfare Information Gateway [CWIG], 2013).  FCIA also created resources which instruct foster parents on how to train and prepare their foster youth for life as an adult (Carroll, 2002; CWIG, 2013).

            FCIA offers current and former foster youth courses aimed at giving them the knowledge on how to apply for an apartment, take out a loan, manage their credit score, and manage the process of applying for financial aid for higher education (Carroll, 2002; CWIG, 2013). When a foster youth, ages 18-21, has emancipated from foster care FCIA enables states to provide housing, and financial assistance to these youth (H.R. 3553, 1999).

            While FCIA, on the surface, appears to be a well-intentioned program which aims to help reduce the negative social outcomes of former foster youth by providing them with financial assistance and job skills training it can be difficult to understand exactly how these measures will resolve these problems.   How can a program that provides former foster youth with financial support through the age of 21 decrease criminal activity or social welfare dependence?  How does this program resolve the issue of high former foster youth rates of homelessness and low rates of educational achievement?  The following sections will show how the operating theory of FCIA’s use of transitional living services targets fixing what is currently thought to be the main cause of the aforementioned negative social outcomes of former foster youth.

Criminal Activity

            One theory behind the high rates of criminal activity amongst emancipated former foster youth is that the quick transition from foster child to legal adult causes high amounts of stress among these youth which in turn leads to poor decision making in life, such as choosing a gang for a family or peer group (Lee, 2012).  The study which proposed this theory found that former foster youth who emancipated from care before finishing high school were more likely to become involved in drugs and other delinquent behaviors (Lee, 2012).

            Transitional living services provided by FCIA intervene in this problem area before the negatives of emancipating while in high school can begin.   When a youth turns 18, while in high school, he or she is provided housing, financial assistance for life necessities, help finding employment, and counseling that will help him or her cope with the stressors of emancipation (Carroll, 2002; H.R. 3553, 1999). He or she is also given a caseworker, if not more than one, who will act as a pseudo-parent or guardian for him or her during the transition to adulthood (Carroll, 2002; H.R. 3553, 1999).  Due to all of these resources being provided to the youth, the transition into adulthood is not a quick and abrupt process, but more of a gentle transition from living within a state home to living alone in a home provided by the state.  Instead of the youth being dependent one day and becoming fully independent the next day when he or she turns 18, the youth instead becomes legally independent on their birthday while being surrounded by a support network.  This network gives him or her the financial resources necessary to survive and finish high school, the social support needed to feel that he or she is not alone, and the mental health services needed to help him or her process any residual childhood stressors, mental health issues, or current fears and difficulties.  All of these resources, in theory, should decrease the negative stressors experienced by an emancipating foster youth which should decrease the youth’s chances of becoming involved in criminal activity during their adult life.

Educational Achievement, Employment, Homelessness and Social Welfare Dependency

            Studies have consistently found a link between the high rates of former foster unemployment, homelessness, and social welfare dependency and a lack of education (Coffee, 2003; Blome, 1997; Courtney & Dworsky, 2006; Dodson, & Albelda, 2012; Pecora, 2006; Van, 2011; Westat, 1991).  The most specific link between these negative social outcomes and lack of education centers upon the fact that former fosters without a high school diploma or GED earn low wages which cause high amounts of stress due to an inability to meet financial requirements, which in turn causes mental health problems and eventually leads to unemployment and homelessness (Coffee, 2003; Blome, 1997; Courtney & Dworsky, 2006; Dodson, & Albelda, 2012; Pecora, 2006; Van, 2011; Westat, 1991).

            The transitional living services provided by states to emancipating foster youth through federal funding provided by FCIA intervenes with this problem before it is able to become one.  When a former foster youth emancipates from foster care transitional living services provide former foster youth with the resources they need to continue their education as well as pursue a college degree or alternative higher level degree (Carroll, 2002; H.R. 3553, 1999).  By providing emancipated foster youth with the resources necessary to finish their education these youth will be able to obtain employment within jobs that will pay them a higher wage, which will lead to less stress caused by financial burdens (Carroll, 2002; Coffee, 2003).  Also the transitional living programs will provide these youth with mental health services which will allow them to get the help they need for mental health issues before these issues become an untreated detrimental problem later on in their adult life (Carroll, 2002; H.R. 3553, 1999). 

            The link between low educational achievement and its effect on unemployment, homelessness, and social welfare dependency is not specific to emancipation difficulties alone.  Studies have shown that educational difficulties for former foster youth began early on in their educational careers.  These difficulties are attributed to numerous school transfers, low expectations of teachers, and discrimination of foster youth within educational systems (Rosenfeld and Richman, 2003; Smith, 2007; Vera Institute, 2003).  The transitional living services provided by FCIA combat this issue by providing youth with tutoring and educational skills help, provided by foster parents and school counselors, as early as age 14 (Carroll, 2002; CWIG, 2013).   It is felt that these services will help to decrease the low grade point averages of youth and will in turn lead to them having a more positive outlook towards their education which will allow them to feel comfortable staying in school and finishing their education (Lee, 2012).

            One more theory as to why former foster youth do poorly in school centers around findings which show that a lack of positive role-models and mentors for foster youth lead to them feeling as if they do not belong in school or mainstream society which causes them to leave the education system the day they turn 18 (Lee, 2012; Montgomery, et al., 2006; Sommer, 2013).  Individuals who adhere to this theory believe that by extending the amount of time a former foster youth receives care, and that providing them with positive role-models will lead to these youth feeling as if they belong in school and post-secondary education institutions. (Lee, 2012; Montgomery, et al., 2006; Sommer, 2013).  Proponents of this theory believe that the transitional living services of ILP’s and TLP’s provided to former foster youth with positive role-models will allow foster youth to feel a sense of inclusion in the academic world (Atukpawu, 2010; Milum, 2012; Montgomery, et al., 2006; Sommer, 2013). The theory that improving the environmental interactions of foster youth through positive socialization and educational resources closely aligns with ecological theory perspective that a group that collaborates and utilizes their energy to achieve a collective goal the population will be more likely to survive (Robbins, 2011).

Potential Barriers to Intervention Treatment

            While the transitional living services provided to emancipating foster youth by FCIA appear, in theory, to be the perfect intervention for correcting the social problems of high criminal involvement, low educational achievement, high social welfare dependence, and high rates of homelessness other barriers to this intervention process exist.  One example of a barrier to the possible success rate of transitional living services are two other theories of the causes of former foster youth’s high involvement in criminal activity.  One of these theories states that the high amount of criminal activity committed by former foster youth is caused by the maltreatment these youth experienced during their childhoods (Cusick et al., 2012; Lee, 2012).  The other main theory of the high rates of criminal involvement of former foster youth is that it is caused by these youth spending more than 3 years in the foster system without being given a permanent placement (Bost, 2008; Barbell & Freundlich, 2001; Hormuth 2001).    If either of these theories is true the transitional living services provided by FCIA will not be able to fully address or correct these issues except through mental health counseling and positive role modeling. 

            Another potential obstacle that may be encountered by transitional living service programs is that of cultural barriers.  If the individuals running the programs come from a vastly different cultural and or ethnic backgrounds than that of the clients they work with these differences may prevent a close communication or working relationship between the people running the programs and the youth receiving services.   Cultural disconnect has been shown to affect the success rates of transitional living programs around the country (Baker et al., 2010).  Another cultural barrier that could be encountered would be if the foster youth suffered from a debilitating disability such as paralysis.  If the youth is incapable of being independent their participation in the program may not be voluntary and though they complete the tasks required the knowledge that they will always be dependent and never independent could cause negative social outcomes for that youth in the area of mental health (Barnes, 2003).  An important point to note would be that a youth with a physical disability or extreme mental disability such as schizophrenia may have problems obtaining employment with a high level of pay that is not caused by a lack of education or their foster care experiences, but rather by social discrimination. These factors should be taken into account when compiling data on the success rates of transitional living services and when providing these individuals with services.

            If transitional living services are unable to reduce the crime rates of former foster youth because the causes are related to uncontrollable circumstances, FCIA may receive poor reviews from program critics.  If cultural differences between the staff members applying the intervention to the foster youth exist this may affect the effectiveness of transitional living services and will again put the success of the services provided up for questioning.  If the foster youth involved in transitional living services had a physical or mental disability which will cause them employment and independence issues throughout their life, their success rates may skew the data of program effectiveness and cause critics to see the program as ineffective.  For this reason it is important that individuals reviewing the success and fail rates of transitional living services pay attention to the population of former foster youth being studied.   High success rates or fail rates may be due to cultural differences or extreme circumstances experienced by the individuals in the program and is not an indicator of the transitional living services performance or operation failings.  

Analysis of the Empirical Literature

            Since the passing of FCIA into law (P.L. 106-169) numerous transitional living services have been created and put into action around the country in the form of ILP’s and TLP’s.  In order to assess the success these programs have had on reducing the negative social outcomes of emancipated foster youth during their adult lives, many studies have been done to assess the validity of the theory which proposed that transitional living services in the form of TLP’s and ILP’s would fix the social problems experienced by negative former foster outcomes.  The following section will review a eleven studies conducted to assess the success of TLP’s and ILP’s in reducing the high rates of former foster youth homelessness, social welfare dependency, and criminal activity, and increasing their rates of educational achievement.

ILP and TLP Affect’s on Crime and Life Skills

            Study 1.  A quantitative pre-experimental study investigating the social outcomes of former foster youth who received no services upon emancipation, in comparison to the social outcomes of former foster youth that participated in a TLP was conducted using an ecological perspective as the philosophical framework and a post positivist outlook in relation to controlling external variables (Boston, 2012).  The structure of this study allowed the researcher to utilize a correlational research design which allowed the experimenter to analyze how environmental situations such as a TLP program could affect the social outcomes experienced by an emancipated foster youth (Boston, 2012).  The overall purpose of this study was to measure whether there was a significant relationship between the outcomes of former foster youth and the type of, or lack of, transitional living services they received through a TLP (Boston, 2012).  The treatment portion of the study tested the results of seven treatments measures by assessing the affects the TLP had on providing the foster youth with independent skills by measuring their knowledge on the Ansel-Casey Life Skills Assessment Scale (Boston, 2012).  The 81 participants in the study were voluntary and were recruited using the snowball method by placing flyers on the door and walls of each facility asking individuals to participate and for them to refer friends not in the TLP program who had been in foster care to participate in the study.   The study found that the participants who had participated in the TLP program scored higher on the Ansel-Casey Life Skills Assessment scale than the former fosters who had not participated in the TLP (Boston, 2012).  These findings suggest that former foster youth that participate in a TLP program should have more success when it comes to balancing a budget, caring for their physical and mental health, and maintaining employment. 

            Though the results of this study appear promising, the study itself has flaws in its design which make it unreliable for generalizing the results to a larger population.  Problems with the internal and external validity of this study exists. Selection is the main threat to internal and external validity because the youth studied were not randomly selected, and were in fact a small group of friends from the same area of the country.  Due to the non-random selection of participants the study cannot be generalized.  Other threats to the internal validity of this study is interactions.  Due to both the participants in the control group and group with the intervention being friends, there is a high probability that their interactions with one another may have caused the resentful demoralization effect in the control group.  A strength of the internal validity of this study is that a control group was used to compare the results of those treated to the outcomes of those not treated, this eliminates the risk of history, maturation, testing, and regression to the mean affecting the results.  The use of a peer reviewed scale to measure the outcomes eliminates the risk of instrumentation threatening the internal validity.

            Study 2.  Due to lack of research on the affects transitional living services have on former foster youth the second study presented here is dated in that it was conducted more than seven years ago.  In 2007, a quasi-experimental matched comparison group design study of the affects an ILP program in Florida had on the outcomes of 49 former foster youth, in comparison to 18 former foster youth not enrolled in the ILP, had in the areas of educational achievement, employment, income, housing, early parenting-prevention, transportation, anger control, criminal-prevention, self-esteem outcomes, perceived parenting competence, substance abuse, risky sex prevention outcomes, increased knowledge in money management skills, job seeking skills, job maintenance skills, interpersonal skills, and lower rates of depression (Georgiades, 2005).  The study measured the outcomes of former fosters in these areas using multiple peer reviewed scales of measurement, qualitative interviews, and public data records of imprisonment and incarceration records (Georgiades, 2005).   The participants receiving the treatment and the control group were testes once before treatment began and eight years later (Georgiades, 2005). 

            The results of the study showed that ILP’s were associated with better educational attainment, employment history, income level, housing stability, low teen pregnancy, higher rates of owning a vehicle, better anger and impulse control, lower levels of criminal involvement, and higher levels of self-esteem for former foster youth that participated in the ILP than for those who were in the control group (Georgiades, 2005).  

            While this study shows positive results for the outcomes of former fosters participating in ILP’s, it does have some threats to internal and external validity.  The threat to internal validity is due to the lack of random selection and the small sample of the population from which the study is based upon.  Due to these issues, the study cannot be generalized to the general public of former foster youth.   The biggest threat to internal validity is the lack of random selection of the participants. The use of a comparison group is helpful in establishing some internal validity.   Another main threat to the internal validity is instrumentation due to the qualitative interviews.

ILP Effects on Education and Employment         

            Study 3.  In 2011, a qualitative pre-experimental design study of nine former foster youth from Tennessee who were enrolled in either a two or four year university was conducted to discover how well they felt the ILP they were enrolled in prepared them for their pursuit in higher education, employment, daily living skills, and basic vocational training (Eriamiatoe, 2011).The study was aimed at generalizing the effects of ILP’s on former foster youth educational attainment to the national population (Eriamiatoe, 2011). The nine participants had all spent time in foster care and ILP’s in different parts of the state.  The participants were referred to participate in the study by their case workers (Eriamiatoe, 2011).  The researcher met with each of the nine participants one time in a combination of public and private locations (Eriamiatoe, 2011).  The researcher conducted a 45 minuet interview with each of the participants to assess how well they felt the ILP they had participated in helped prepare them for the rigors of life and college (Eriamiatoe, 2011).  The study found that the former foster youth, overall, did not seem to benefit from the services they received while participating in the ILP (Eriamiatoe, 2011).  The former foster youth interviewed all felt that the skills they had learned for successful adult living and the motivation for pursuit of a higher form of education came from positive interactions with group home workers and foster parents (Eriamiatoe, 2011).

            When reviewing this study, many issues with internal and external validity exist which make it unable to be generalized to the national population former foster youth.  The threats to external validity include the pre-experimental design and the lack or randomization of participants.  The threats to internal validity include history, instrumentation, maturation, selection, regression to the mean, and testing.  If the study had included a comparison group of former foster youth in post-secondary education that had not participated in an ILP program some of these threats could have been eliminated.  Due to the lack of a reliable testing measure, or random assignment this study cannot be generalized to individuals from the former foster population that received ILP services.

            Study 4.  In 2013, a study assessing the affect an ILP in Arizona had on the educational attainment and employment status of 66 former foster youth was conducted using an ecological perspective and a quasi-experimental matched comparison group design (Milum, 2012).  The study examined the levels of job skills and educational attainment of former foster youth before they were in the ILP program and then evaluated these same variables by the time they were 26 years of age (Milum, 2012).  The study was conducted by analyzing closed case records of the foster youth and then comparing their past histories to their adult standing in the areas of educational attainment and employment.  The study focused on finding whether or not a link between gender, ethnicity, legal involvement and history of abuse of an individual affected their overall success after participating in the program (Milum, 2012).  Four separate binary logistic regression analysis were used to determine what services offered by the ILP best predicted educational and employment outcomes for the participants (Milum, 2012).  The results of the study showed that legal involvement and substance abuse was a significant indicator of a youth not completing their high school education or GED (Milum, 2012).  The study also showed that the length of time a participant participated in the ILP predicted higher levels of educational achievement and better employment history (Milum, 2012).  A major focus of concern found during this study was that youth who had more time with staff had better outcomes, but minority youth and youth with a history of criminal activity or drug use were given less attention by staff. 

            This study has two threats to external validity.  Because the sample size consisted of only 66 former foster youth, it is not large enough to be representative of the general population.  The study did not select participants randomly, which also causes a threat to external validity.  Internal validity concerns caused by a lack of comparison group and random selection include history, maturation, regression to the mean and testing.

            Study 5. From 2006-2008, 229 emancipating foster youth participated in a study aimed assessing the success rate an ILP employment skills program had in preparing foster youth for life as successful adults (Courtney et al., 2013).  The 229 participants were randomly selected from Kern County, California and were randomly placed into the control group, or the group of former foster youth who were to receive ILP services (Courtney et al., 2013).  Both the control group and the treatment group were assessed on their job skills and employment history before treatment, one year after treatment, and two years after treatment (Courtney et al., 2013).  The classic experimental design study found no significant difference between the job skills held by the former foster youth who received ILP services and the skills held by individuals in the control group (Courtney et al., 2013).  The study also found that the unemployment rates of both the treatment and control group were the same.

            The structure of this classic experimental design with the random selection of participants and the large sample size eliminates risks of external validity and internal validity.

ILP Effects on Education

            Study 6.  In 2005, researchers evaluated the reading and math levels of 445 foster youth between the ages of 13 and 14. (Courtney et al., 2008). Foster youth, who were found to be behind in their reading and math skills by 1-3 years, were randomly selected to be included in the study and were either entered into a ILP tutoring program in one of 12 sites in Los Angeles or they were placed in the control group in which they received no tutoring (Courtney et al., 2008).  During the two years that followed, the initial testing participants were tested on their progress in the program on two more occasions with the final test occurring two years after entering into this classical experimental design (Courtney et al., 2008). The tests were aimed at evaluating the effectiveness of the program in improving the reading and math skills of the participants (Courtney et al., 2008). The results of the study showed that individuals who received the ILP treatment did not show any improvement in their reading and math skills that were significant in comparison to the control group (Courtney et al., 2008).

            Due to the random use of random sampling, the large sample size, and the use of multiple sites for the study there are no threats to external validity within this study.   The use of comparison groups, control groups, multiple sites, and multiple tests for both the treatment groups and control groups eliminate all threats to internal validity.  However, despite the solid structure of the study, one complication found was that some of the control group learned about the tutoring services and enrolled themselves in the tutoring program (Courtney, 2008). If other participants from the control group received tutoring services and did not report this, that may explain the lack of significant difference between the outcomes of the two groups.

Transitional Living Program’s Effects on Homelessness

            Study 7.  From July 1st, 2006 through June 30th, 2009 a cross sectional study comparing the effect of TLP’s on homelessness among 291 former foster youth was conducted between two agencies in San Francisco California (Brown & Wilderson, 2010).  The study was a quasi-experimental matched comparison group design that examined the effectiveness of a TLP involvement on reducing homelessness amongst emancipating former foster youth and comparing those results to that of former foster youth who became involved in a TLP after having become homeless (Brown & Wilderson, 2010). The study also compared the educational attainments, drug use, mental health status, and educational outcomes of homeless youth who had never been in foster care with homeless youth that had spent time in foster care (Brown & Wilderson, 2010).  

            The study found that former foster youth who received homeless prevention services while in a TLP were less likely to become homeless during their adult lives, experienced less drug use, had better educational outcomes and practiced safer sex (Brown & Wilderson, 2010).   Former foster youth who were not exposed to a TLP upon leaving foster care, and who later became homeless, had higher rates of low educational achievement, drug use, unsafe sex practices, and higher rates of cyclical homelessness (Brown & Wilderson, 2010).  Former foster youth who had not been exposed to a TLP before emancipation and became homeless showed higher rates of unemployment,  numerous chronic mental health concerns, many unsafe sex practices, high levels of drug use, and higher rates of criminal activity than the comparison group of homeless individuals who did not spend time in foster care (Brown & Wilderson, 2010).

            Study seven holds few risks for internal and external validity.  The risk for external validity is the lack or random selection from the population but the large sample size and the use of two comparison groups helps reduce some of this threat.  Threats to internal validity are selection due to the lack of random assignment, regression to the mean due to lack of random assignment, and the possibility of interactions due to individuals in the homeless population being compared against other individuals living within the same center. Resentful demoralization may also play a factor in that the homeless former foster youth may feel that they are worse off than the group of non-former foster homeless individuals which may have led to them embellishing their negative life experiences.

            Study 8.  In 2013 a qualitative pre-experimental design study using semi-structured interviews and questionnaires was conducted to assess the opinions of  eight former foster youth on the life skills they were taught while participating in TLP’ and ILP’s within the San Francisco Bay area (Schleicher, 2013).  Participants included former foster youth currently enrolled in ILP’s and TLP’s as well as former foster youth who had been involved in such programs in the past (Schleicher, 2013).  The participants in the study were recruited by case workers at the TLP and ILP facilities.  The study found that the participants in this study who had received mental health services and mentorship during their time in care were less likely to become homeless and complete a higher level of education than the individuals who did not receive this type of care.

            This study is riddled with threats to internal, such as history, regression to the mean, maturation and history, as well as threats to external validity due to the small study sample. These threats are to be expected of a pre-experimental design study.  No generalizations from this study can be made to the general population or to the population of former foster youth within the San Francisco Bay area due to the small sample size, the lack of random selection, and the subjective nature of the interview questions.

Experimental Design of ILP Programs Effect on Criminal Activity, Employment, Homelessness and Educational outcomes.

            Study 9.  Study nine is a complex alternative treatment experimental design which evaluated the affects four different foster care program sites had on the outcomes experienced by former foster youth in the areas of increased educational attainment, employment stability, interpersonal relationship skills, rates of unplanned pregnancies, and rates of criminal activity (Courtney, Stagner, & Pergamit, 2013). This study randomly selected a total of 1,242 former foster youth who were currently involved in a program aimed at teaching life skills.   Half of the randomly selected participants were placed in an independent living program aimed at decreasing homelessness, criminal activity and increasing educational attainment while the other half of participants were given treatment as usual.  The participants in this study were tested two times and the instruments used for measurement were 17 different peer reviewed scales for measuring the variables being studies.  The study found that foster youth exposed to ILP’s had lower rates of criminal activity and unplanned pregnancies and higher rates of educational achievement and employment stability. 

            Study nine holds no threats to external validity due to its large sample size, the use of random selection and the use of multiple study site locations.  The only threats to internal validity in this study would be caused by human nature.  These threats include the compensatory effect, diffusion affect, and resentful demoralization due to the programs staffs’ knowledge and potential guilt over one group receiving a treatment the other participants were knowingly denied.   

            Study 10. In 2006, researchers in Los Angeles, California evaluated the life skills of 467 randomly selected 17 year old emancipating youth to determine their preparedness for independent living (Courtney et al., 2008).  Half of the participants were randomly selected to participate in an ILP training for independent living, educational success, homeless prevention, computer skills, survival skills, daily living skills, and training cost and benefit analysis (Courtney et al., 2008).  Immediately after completing the course and two years later both the control group and the experimental group were given follow up examinations (Courtney et al., 2008).  The study found that the individual who took the ILP course fared no better on these skill sets than the control group (Courtney et al., 2008).  The study also found that the ILP group had the same levels of low educational achievement, high homelessness and high criminal activity as the general foster care population (Courtney et al., 2008).  The results were based on the quantified results of peer reviewed measurement scales used to assess the outcomes of the former foster youth (Courtney et al., 2008).

            Due to the large sample size and the use of random sampling this study holds no threats to external validity.  The results of this study can be generalized to the foster care population in Los Angeles.  The use of a comparison group, random sampling, and a consistent form of measurement eliminates threats to internal validity.

            Study 11.  From 1999-2010 a study conducted by Youth Villages followed the progress of 5,091 former foster youth that received services through their TLP (Youth Villages, 2012).  This pre-experimental static group comparison design compared the outcomes of former foster youth that participated in their program in areas of employment stability, educational attainment, rates of criminal activity, and rates of homelessness to the outcomes that former foster youth from a Midwest study had in these same factors in 1990 (Youth Villages, 2012).  The study found that more than two years after emancipating from foster care 83% of their participants were employed and had finished high school, only 23% had been involved in criminal activity, and 84% were not homeless or living in poverty (Youth Villages, 2012).  These outcomes were promising when compared to the Midwest study which found that within 18 months of emancipating out of the foster system 55% of former foster youth were in poverty, 25% were homeless, 45% had dropped out of high school, 50% were unemployed and by the age 26, 50% were incarcerated (Youth Villages, 2012).

            The design of this study leaves it open to threats of internal and external validity.  Since the comparison group used was comprised of former foster youth from a different state who had been studied more than a decade before Youth Villages began their study this is not a viable comparison group and a threat to external validity exists.  Due to the lack of comparison group, random selection, or consistent form or measuring outcomes of former foster youth, this study’s threats to internal validity include history, instrumentation, maturation, selection, and regression to the mean.

Strength of the Evidence Presented

            After an extensive review of a multitude of studies aimed at showing the success and failure rates of ILP’s and TLP’s, a lack of solid evidence based research and/or strong research design methods used in many of the studies can be observed.  The author of this paper was unable to find any strong quasi-experimental or experimental studies on TLP’s success or failure rates for improving the outcomes of former foster youth.  While the Youth Villages study made grandiose claims of TLP success, the study conducted used a pre-experimental design and is not able to be used as an example of a evidence based study that displays the effectiveness of TLP’s (Youth Villages, 2012).

            Upon reviewing past literature reviews of the effects of TLP’s and ILP’s on the high rates of crime, homelessness, social welfare dependency, and low educational attainment amongst former foster youth, a lack of studies supporting the success and fail rates of ILP and TLP’s exist.  Other researchers have found the same lack of strong empirical data supporting or disproving the effectiveness of ILP and TLP programs (Dion & Dworsky, 2014; Montgomery, et al., 2006).  Evidence based research which shows a lack of positive results experienced by former foster youth in Los Angeles, California and Kern County, California exists, but without similar studies to compare these findings to large scale generalizations cannot be made.

            After a thorough review of the literature presented in this paper examining the effectiveness of TLP’s and ILP’s on reducing the rates of crime, homelessness, social welfare dependency, and increasing levels of educational attainment among former fosters only the four classic experimental design studies are able to be considered evidence based.  Three of these four studies show a lack of positive influence of ILP’s services in reducing homelessness, and crime rates among former fosters or in increasing employment rates or educational attainment.  More evidence based studies need to be conducted in order for a conclusion of the productivity of ILP’s and TLP’s in promoting positive social outcomes for former foster youth can be made.  Until more studies are done TLP and ILP interventions for former foster youth cannot be considered an evidence based treatment measure.

Summary

            The first section of this paper focused on overviewing the current prevalence of high rates of homelessness, criminal activity and social welfare dependency of former foster youth in the United States and this populations low rates of educational achievement.  After reviewing the prevalence of these issues and the financial costs these problems have on American tax payers, the focus was shifted to understanding the current theoretical explanations for why these negative social outcomes for former foster youth prevail.  After examining various theoretical etiology’s of the problems, an examination of the theory of transitional living services being an appropriate treatment method for resolving the negative social outcomes of former foster youth was discussed.   After examining current research into the effectiveness TLP’s and ILP’s have in reducing the negative social outcomes of former foster youth, it was found that little evidence based research exists which shows success or failure of TLP’s and/or ILP’s in correcting this social issue.

            After reviewing the current research large gaps have been found in understanding why and how an ILP or a TLP is able to or would be able to help a former foster youth finish high school, find steady employment, maintain a stable home, abstain from criminal activity, and remain financially independent.  The purpose of FCIA was to create transitional living services that would help former foster youth become successful, crime free, financially independent adults. 14 years since FCIA was passed into law research showing the effectiveness of ILP’s and TLP’s in fulfilling the goals laid out by FCIA does not exist.

            The current research on TLP’s and ILP’s is not extensive enough to have a broad impact on the field of social work or policy making.  Individuals working in the foster care field need to make this lack of information known so as to increase financial funding for more research in this area.  Since there is not enough evidence to prove or disprove the effectiveness of the programs it is unlikely that any drastic changes to FCIA or these programs would occur in the near future.  However, the best empirically based studies which have been done to date do show that ILP’s have now significant effect on improving the educational attainment of former foster youth in Los Angele’s, California or on affecting the rates of criminal activity, homelessness and unemployment levels of youth who participated in the program.  If more studies are done which show similar findings this would indicate the ILP’s may not be an effective treatment or intervention method for recently emancipated former foster youth.

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Published by lifefromtheashes5332

Hi, I’m Elizabeth. I am a wife, mother, gardener, adjunct professor, philosopher, former foster child, former homeless adult and Master in Social Work. My website covers all the things listed above!

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