How do youth placed in foster care fare once they grow up?

More than 400,000 youth in the United States live in foster care each year. So what actually happens to those youth when they become adults? How do they fare once they leave the foster care system?

Continuing our series of posts looking at milestones and progress in the child welfare field, today we highlight the groundbreaking Northwest Foster Care Alumni Study, published in 2005.

Casey Family Programs led a research collaboration that looked at the outcomes of 659 youth who had been in care with Casey or the Washington or Oregon state child welfare agencies between 1988 and 1998.

The alumni study not only provided a clearer picture of how alumni were functioning after they left care, but it also examined what changes in foster care services could improve alumni’s lives.

Among the key findings:

  • Mental health: Compared to the general population, a disproportionate number of alumni had mental health disorders, including a post-traumatic stress disorder rate similar to that of U.S. war veterans.
  • Education: Alumni completed high school at rates similar to the general population, but they used GED programs to get there at six times the rate of the general population. Their college completion rate was very low, especially in comparison to the general population.
  • Employment and finances: Alumni experienced difficult employment and financial situations, with their employment and insurance coverage rates lower than that of the general population.
  • Relationships: Many alumni were able to overcome their childhood adversities, and are raising children and contributing to their community. The report identified what contributed to that success.

For more detailed findings and recommendations to improve outcomes for youth, access the full report here.