Chapin Hall Discussion Paper on Foster Youth

California was at the forefront of extended foster care, passing Assembly Bill 12 in 2010, which allowed foster youth to remain in foster care until they turn 21. California’s approach to extended foster care is among the most comprehensive in the country, as policy makers strived to not only extend foster care for 3 more years but to design and implement a program responsive to the needs of young adults.

Marc Courtney and Nathanael Okpych, researchers at Chapin Hall, are currently conducting a study analyzing the outcomes of California’s foster youth who are participating in extended foster care. While the study will be ongoing, this is a first look at some of the earliest findings. The study is following a cohort of 727 foster youth who were between the ages of 16.75 and 17.75 at the time the sample was drawn. The goal of the study is to follow these youth over the course of several years, starting prior to their eligibility for extended foster care and continuing throughout the period they would be eligible to participate. These initial findings provide an overview of the demographics of the youth who will be followed over the course of the evaluation before they reached the age of majority and were eligible to participate in extended foster care. This provides a baseline with which to understand future reports that will be released during the course of the evaluation.

One of the major concerns about extended foster care at the time it was enacted was that it would disincentivize permanency for older youth, both because the young people would rather remain in foster care and because potential guardians and adoptive parents would be less willing to establish permanency and risk the young person losing out on the benefits of extended foster care. However, the early findings suggest that the availability of extended foster care has not lead to decreased permanency. In fact, the percentage of reunification, adoption and guardianship placements increased in 2013. The study does find a 10 percent increase in the amount of youth who were in the foster care system on their 18th birthday, but this increase is attributed to lower rates of emancipation at age 18 and declining rates of youth running away as they approach their 18th birthday.

While the study is still in its infancy, as is California’s foray into extended foster care generally, it is encouraging to see that the option of extended foster care is providing the safety net that young people need as they transition to adulthood without discouraging permanence in those situations when it is achievable.