The transition from adolescence to adulthood is a pivotal developmental stage as young people learn the skills needed to be healthy and productive adults. This process can be complicated for youth with foster care experience, and research shows young people develop best when they live in families and are able to develop nurturing relationships with adults. According to Fostering Youth Transitions 2023: State and National Data to Drive Foster Care Advocacy, released today by the Annie E. Casey Foundation, Tennessee’s efforts to find permanent homes for more than seven in ten older youth in foster care place it with just a handful of states providing the placements making those important relationships more likely. Data from all 50 states shed light on the housing, economic, education and permanence challenges faced by nearly 400,000 young adults who have experienced foster care. The report provides foster care trends and insights from 15 years of state and federal data for policymakers and child welfare leaders responsible for ensuring young people’s success.
“The first goal of foster care is to reunify children with their parents in a safe and stable environment,” said Richard Kennedy, Executive Director of the Tennessee Commission on Children and Youth. “Annie E. Casey Foundation’s data shows Tennessee does this more than most states. It is always best to keep families together if you can.”
Nationally, the report finds outcomes for young people with foster care history, such as employment and higher education, lagged those of their peers in the general population. At the same time, federally funded transition services created to help young people thrive as adults were underused. Fostering Youth Transitions 2023 reports that although the number of teenagers and young adults in foster care has decreased by 45 percent nationally over the past 15 years, systems are falling short at delivering services to those who are in care.
In Tennessee, independent living services – such as vocational training, tuition aid and housing vouchers have been available for eligible older youth, but only 12% reported receiving them. Tennessee has recently expanded eligibility for this program to include youth engaged in the workforce where previously educational engagement was required. As a new expansion, the effect of this is not yet seen in the data, but service providers are hopeful this shift will encourage more youth exiting foster care to participate.
Without access to federally funded services and the support of permanent families, many young people are exiting the system lacking the education and training needed to secure stable employment. The report finds that among Tennessee young adults with foster care experience who were 21 years old in 2021:
One of the avenues for delivering these services is Extension of Foster Care, which allows youth in foster care at age 18 to continue receiving services from the state through these important transition years. First authorized federally in 2008, Extension of Foster Care caught Tennessee’s attention early. The state created the Youth Transitions Advisory Council in 2009 to bring dedicated advocates together from across the state to develop strategies to successfully provide these services. “Not all states have implemented Extension of Foster Care services,” said Kennedy. “In Tennessee we recognize the importance of supporting this group of young people in ways they miss out on if they aren’t with their families.”
The Tennessee Commission on Children and Youth leads the work of the Youth Transitions Advisory Council to bring together experts and those with lived experience aging out of the foster care system. The Council’s work drives ongoing focus on improving the experience and meeting the needs of this unique population. The Council’s top related recommendations from its 2022 report include:
Department of Children’s Services Commissioner Margie Quin added “The Department is energized to serve our state’s emerging adult population exiting foster care. We believe through innovative programming, mentorship and funding, Tennessee can continue to serve these bright young people as they chart a path for their future.”
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