NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis


May 25, 2005

Nationally, 20,000 youths in foster care are forced to leave because they get too old for it. In some states, they are allowed to stay until they turn 21, but in many, they simply "age out" when they turn 18, and that can have devastating consequences, says the Chapin Hall Center for Children.

Researchers examined 600 youths, mostly 19-year-olds and from Illinois, Iowa and Wisconsin who recently left foster care or soon will. The researchers found that foster care children struggle with worse problems than a national sample of 19-year-old Americans.

According to researchers:

  • More than a third of those from foster care had no high school diploma or general equivalency diploma, compared with 10 percent of people their age.
  • Those from foster care were more likely to be pregnant, unemployed, in counseling, or unable to pay rent.
  • Those allowed to stay in the system past their 18th birthday seemed to fare better than those who were not; those who left were half as likely to be enrolled in school than those still in care.
  • Additionally, those who left were 50 percent more likely to be unemployed, 14 percent find themselves homeless at some point, and 11.5 percent reported not having enough to eat.

The issue could be financial, say the researchers. They suggest extending foster care services to age 21.

"What these results tell us is that we've got to stop throwing so many children into foster care in the first place, says Richard Wexler, executive director of the National Coalition for Child Protection Reform.

Source: Monica Davey, "Those Who Outgrow Foster Care Still Struggle, Study Finds," New York Times, May 19, 2005; based upon: Mark E. Courtney et al., "Midwest Evaluation of the Adult Functioning of Former Foster Youth: Outcomes at Age 19," Chapin Hall Center for Children, May 2005.

For text (subscription required):


Browse more articles on Tax and Spending Issues