Achieving Permanency and Sustaining Connections for Older Youth in Foster Care

Permanency for Older Youth

by Jeanne Howard and Stephanie Berzin

Donaldson Adoption Institute 2011

The Evan B. Donaldson Adoption Institute, starting with the publication of “Never Too Old” and with next steps with partner organizations, seeks to help reshape that reality. This report is the result of over a year of research and analysis, and it constitutes the most up-to-date compilation of knowledge on the numerous facets of this important issue. It builds on the body of work of other researchers, policy-makers and organizations; it synthesizes the current state of knowledge on achieving permanency for older youth in care; it highlights best practices that exist around the country; and it identifies future directions for better serving these young people.

In keeping with the Institute’s focus on permanency for all children, this report looks not just at adoption, but at all the effective approaches being considered today for achieving lasting connections. Our near-term objective is to broaden understanding of this critical issue by the public, professionals and policymakers and to provide an up-to-date, evidence-based perspective on how we, as a society, can do a better job of serving older youth in foster care who need enduring families to sustain and support them. Our ultimate goal, of course, is more ambitious: It is to raise the profile of and knowledge about this issue to a new level and, in so doing, improve the lives of tens of thousands of young people every year. Not acting on their behalf will mean huge, ongoing, negative financial and social consequences for our country, and an incalculable toll on the youth themselves.

 Major Observations and Conclusions of Never Too Old

  •  On average, just under 28,000 youth were emancipated from foster care in each of the last six years, peaking at 29,730 in FY2007. The percentage of youth who leave care through emancipation has grown steadily, from 7% in FY1998 to 11% in FY 2010.
  • Multiple studies show that a high percentage of these youth will face difficulties in early adulthood as they struggle with poor educational attainment, insufficient employment and low income, inadequate housing, early parenthood, involvement with the criminal justice system, substance abuse, and physical and mental health problems.
  •  Research and experience teach us that permanent, emotionally sustaining and committed relationships are imperative for youth to reach self-sufficiency and to thrive in early adulthood, yet many young people leave care without any such relationships.
  • Current federal and state programs to assist older youth to independence are well intended, but have not proven as beneficial as anticipated. Providing services without achieving ongoing, supportive relationships is insufficient to meet the long-term needs of youth emancipating from care.
  • A range of creative methods exists to provide stable, dependable family support – and they must be used to help older youth achieve permanency and long-term connections.
  • The vast majority of adoptive placements of older youth are successful; although the disruption rate for youth placed as teens is somewhat higher than for younger children, a recent study of close to 16,000 adoptive placements in one state found that disruption rates varied from 8-14% across all age groups (Smith, Howard, Garnier & Ryan, 2006).

Download Never Too Old: Achieving Permanency and Sustaining Connections for Older Youth in Foster Care 

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