Aged Out

Youth who age out of foster care experience devastating outcomes, despite increased development of services and supports. In this report we ask, "What are we missing?".

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Who

Transition-age foster youth between the ages of 13 and 26

Why

To better understand how the child welfare system is failing transition-age foster youth.

Conditions of Systems Change

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Policy
Resource Flows
Power Dynamics
Practices
Relationships + Connections
Mental Models

The Challenge

Thousands of youth between 18 and 21 age out of foster care each year, with no connection to family or a supportive network and very poor life prospects. Longitudinal studies across the US show very high rates of homelessness, incarceration, unemployment, and lack of access to health care among former foster youth. These outcomes are disproportionately worse for Black, Native, and Brown youth, as well as Queer and Trans youth. Despite incredible investment of time and resources in recent decades, poor outcomes for youth who age out of foster care persist.

The Action

Think of Us went on a journey to understand how the child welfare system still continues to fail youth who age out of care. We partnered with Bloom Works to conduct in-field discovery sprints in five locations across the US. Our initial goal was to identify gaps in the system to inform our next phase of product development, but ultimately there were so many unanticipated insights that we decided to share what we learned with the broader ecosystem. We published those findings in Aged Out.

The Stats

  • 206 research participants - current & former foster youth,  child welfare staff & leadership, supportive adults, foster parents, and more.
  • 92 research sessions -
    in-depth interviews and participatory design workshops.

For youth aging out of care:

  • 20,000+
    age out each year
  • 1 in 5
    will become homeless after age 18
  • 50%+
    will experience the justice system
  • Only 50%
    will be employed at age 24
  • 71%
    will be pregnant by age 21
  • Only 24%
    will graduate high school

The Results

The child welfare system is most failing transition-age youth and we must urgently focus our attention to:

  1. Healing and dealing with trauma
  2. Centering youth in their preparedness
  3. Helping youth build a supportive network

These findings are now foundational to our organizational strategy at Think of Us. Learnings from Aged Out have informed: 

  • A federal, multi-year project for older foster youth 
  • Legislation regarding services to help youth health and deal from trauma. 
  • The work of the American Bar Association in their engagement with youth.
  • Partnership with Washington State in developing a first-ever Department of Adolescence.

Centering Lived Experience

  • Research team included one individual with lived experience aging out of foster care.
  • Research methodology centered on the experiences, hopes and fears of foster youth: participatory design workshops, creative exercises, and interviews with current and former foster youth, staff, and supportive adults.
  • In-field discovery sprints using proven human-centered design and participatory research methodologies
  • People with lived experience formed a panel to discuss the findings during the National Readout of Aged Out.
  • All non-staff participants were compensated financially for their engagement

Key Stakeholders

Research Partner

Participants

  • Current and former foster youth
  • Staff, including paid professionals (such as social workers, probation officers, case managers, and others) and unpaid volunteers (such as Court Appointed Special Advocates, or CASA)
  • Supportive people, including adults and peers

Researchers

  • Bloom Works: Emily Wright-Moore, Lauren Lockwood, Sarah Fathallah
  • Think of Us: Marina Nitze, Sarah Sullivan, Sixto Cancel 

Authors

  • Bloom: Emily Wright-Moore, Sarah Fathallah 
  • Think of Us: Sarah Sullivan, Sixto Cancel, Marina Nitze 

Partners

The San Francisco Bay Area of California, home to three partners: 

  • Santa Clara County
  • First Place for Youth locations in Solano County and San Francisco County
  • Uplift Family Services in San José

Minneapolis in Minnesota state, home to partner:

  • Hennepin County

New York City, home to around 10% of the country’s foster care youth, as well as partner:

  • The New York Foundling

Geographic Location

San Francisco Bay Area

Minneapolis

New York City

Time Frame

Discovery Sprints conducted Fall 2019 & Spring 2020

Report released December 2020

Budget

$150K

Philanthropic
Earned Revenue
Government Contract

Approach

Strategic
Opportunistic

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