Foster Care Outcomes

The 1994 Green Book Overview of Entitlement Programs notes: "Several surveys conducted during the mid-1980s showed that a significant number of homeless shelter users had been recently discharged from foster care." One such study conducted in the Minneapolis area found that between 14% and 26% of homeless adults were former foster care children, explained Michael Weber, Director of the Hennepin County Community Services Department, during joint hearings examining Foster Care, Child Welfare, and Adoption Reforms (1988). A subsequent study of the long-term homeless in Minneapolis found that 39% had experienced foster care or institutional care as children (Lindsey, 1994). In New York City, a study determined that between 25% and 50% of the young men in the homeless shelters were former foster care wards (Oreskes, 1987). Perhaps the most distressing study of all, conducted in Calgary, consisted of interviews with so-called "street kids." It was found that an astounding 90% had been in foster care prior to winding up living on the streets (Lindsey, 1994).

Among the homeless, the risks of continued family disruption are significantly greater than among the general population. An ongoing study by the Institute for Children and Poverty (1993) reveals that homeless families whose heads of households grew up in foster care are at greatest risk of dissolution. Individuals who grew up in foster care are 30% more likely to be substance abusers and 50% more likely to have a history of domestic violence than the overall homeless population. Twice as many of these heads of households have already lost at least one child to foster care.

A 1991 federal study of former foster care wards found that one-fourth had been homeless, 40% were on public assistance, and half were unemployed. Connecticut officials estimate 75% of youths in the state's criminal justice system were once in foster care (Bayles & Cohen, 1995). According to a survey by the National Association of Social Workers, 20% of children living in runaway shelters come directly from foster care. Children placed in out-of-home care, regardless of the reason, are at higher risk of developing alcohol and drug problems. The survey also found that an incredible 80% of prisoners in Illinois had spent time in foster care as children (Azar, 1995).

Under a contract with the Department of Health and Human Services, Westat, Inc. released the second phase of a two-phase report in 1992 as a follow up on youths who had been emancipated from foster care during the period from January, 1987 and July, 1988. Westat found that the status of older foster care youth two and one-half to four years after discharge is "adequate at best" and that services are needed for this population to improve their outcomes (Committee on Ways and Means, 1994). The 1994 Green Book describes the results of the second survey:

Westat reported that only 54% of the study population had completed high school, 49% were employed at the time of the interview, 38% maintained a job for at least one year, 40% were a cost to the community in some way at the time of the interview (receiving public assistance, incarcerated, etc.), 60% of the young women had given birth to a child, 25% had been homeless for at least one night, their median weekly salary was $205, and only 17% were completely self-supporting.

As Children's Rights attorney Marcia Robinson Lowry explains: "Foster care systems established and funded to serve children are failing, producing only more damaged graduates who will go on to produce new generations of damaged children, who will continue to lead unspeakably tragic lives and who will increasingly tax our public resources" (Committee on Ways and Means, 1995).


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