Essays on foster youth remaining in care beyond age 18


By bhadmin February 2, 2021

The three essays presented in this dissertation examine Illinois’ experience in extending care foster care for youth into young adulthood. Of the states that have policies allowing for the extension of care beyond 18, Illinois stands out in the number of youth who actually remain in care. The state has long allowed for the extension of care, and has been an emphasis of state agency policy since 1997. The experience of the state in is important as other states consider extending care under recent federal legislation, the Fostering Connections and Increasing Adoptions Act of 2008, which extends federal funding for foster youth up to age 21. The first essay examines the disparity exhibited across Illinois in the proportion of foster youth who remain in care beyond 18, testing where the likely level of variability lies. The state’s child welfare agency is administered at the state level and organized regionally. Dependency courts, however, are organized primarily at the county level. An analysis of state child welfare administrative data shows that a significant level of variation in retention rates is found at the county level, suggesting that court-level practice may be influencing the variability evinced by Illinois. The essay reviews the literature on street-level bureaucracy and workgroup behavior as a means to illuminate how courts may be an important source of variation, and a potential target for policy intervention to extend care to more youth. The second essay considers the perspectives of youths, foster parents, and court personnel involved in the cases of foster youth over the age of 18. While the research echoes the findings of earlier scholarship that youth are ambivalent about remaining in care, it also identifies a number of institutional factors and professional behaviors that likely contribute to youth departing care while remaining eligible for benefits. The third and final essay examines state administrative data from the Midwest Evaluation of the Adult Functioning comparing the outcomes of foster youth in Illinois, who tend to remain in care beyond age 18, to Iowa and Wisconsin, where foster youth tend to leave care at 18. Illinois youth tend to achieve higher levels of postsecondary education compared to these other states. Drawing on scholarship that estimates the returns on income attributable to enhanced education, the essay explores the returns resulting from enhanced educational achievement resulting from extending care. Although former foster youth tend to exhibit low rates of college achievement, the calculations indicate that a policy of extending care provides a return of over two dollars for each dollar of public investment. The calculations do not take into account all market and nonmarket benefits that may result from extending care; doing so likely would increase estimates of the economic returns on a policy of extending care. The dissertation concludes by situating the findings in the contemporary policy context, and suggesting future directions for additional research.

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