One of the heart-rending problems of foster care is helping children who are aging out of the system. The law considers 18-year-olds to be adults, but we know how rare it is that those new adults can support themselves. A recent study looked at almost 8,000 young adults who had been in foster care, comparing their education and employment status at age 21 to the support that had been available to them.
According to the study, the highest correlation between employment/education was to (1) the availability of tuition waivers to state schools, and (2) how long the young person had spent in extended foster care (ECF). The ECF program in most states allows 18-year-olds to receive state support as long as they meet certain criteria for housing, education, or employment. Youth who stayed in the ECF program were much more likely to attend college/technical school or to be fully employed at age 21. Unfortunately, one popular technique -- providing independent living training and services -- did not show any increase in education or employment.
As with all studies, this one looked at only a small segment of young people aging out of foster care. We need more research on what works and how to help these young people. This study, however, is an important contribution to understanding how to help an underserved population.