A first-ever study of youth in foster care and on probation in Los Angeles County released today shows that these individuals are faring poorly under the current system and face severe challenges in education, employment, health, mental health and earnings potential.
Funded by the Conrad N. Hilton Foundation, the study, “Young Adult Outcomes of Youth Exiting Dependent or Delinquent Care in Los Angeles County” (www.hiltonfoundation.org) will be made available to those drawing up the implementation plans for the new state policy (AB12) that extends foster care from 18 years to 21 years starting January 1, 2012. Currently benefits and services for foster youth expire at 18 years of age.
The study was led by Dennis P. Culhane, PhD., a nationally recognized social policy expert and a professor at the University of Pennsylvania, whose previous work has had major influence on homeless policy and practice. The study looked at youth who exited foster care or probation in Los Angeles County in 2002 or 2004 and linked them to records of public service usage from 2005 to 2009 across seven Los Angeles County departments and two California state agencies. It is the first study to report on adult outcomes among “crossover” youth who are involved in both foster care and juvenile justice systems.
"This groundbreaking study shows that vulnerable youth who have the opportunity to go to college and get a decent job consume fewer public service resources," said Steven M. Hilton, President and CEO of the Hilton Foundation. "More importantly, by giving these youth a chance at a better future, our society also will gain contributing new members and long-term benefits."
The study confirmed that crossover youth currently average triple the per-person cost of public service dollars compared with foster care only youth. Crossover youth costs averaged $35,171 over four years versus $12,532 for foster youth.
Criminal justice costs accounted for the largest share of average public costs in adulthood. A quarter of former foster youth and two-thirds of crossover youth have a jail stay in early adulthood. The average cumulative cost of jail stays over four years in young adulthood ranged from $18,430 for a foster youth to $33,946 for a crossover youth.
One-third of former foster youth and one-half of crossover youth experienced a period of extreme poverty during their young adult years with extremely low earnings. For example, a youth exiting the foster care system had cumulative earnings of just under $30,000 over the first four years. The record for crossover youth is even more dismal -- less than $14,000 over four years.
Not surprisingly, their use of public assistance was substantial with 82 percent of crossover youth accessing public welfare benefits during the first four years after exiting the system. Of those leaving foster care, 68 percent accessed public welfare benefits during the first four years. These rates decline in years 5 to 8 but are still substantial – 41 percent for foster youth and 54 percent for crossover youth.
In comparison to foster youth with no involvement in the juvenile justice system, crossover youth were more than twice as likely to be heavy users of public systems in adulthood, three times as likely to experience a jail stay, 1.5 times more likely to receive welfare, and 50 percent less likely to be consistently employed. Foster youth who had consistent earnings had public service costs 70 percent lower than those who were not employed.
"This study provides compelling evidence that these young adults, especially the crossover youth, should be targeted with housing support, education, employment services and mentoring, if the county and the state are to avoid a lifetime of public dependence by this highly vulnerable population,” said Dr. Culhane. “The good news is that this is a population that can be easily targeted with assistance and that current costs to the county could be potentially offset by reduced incarceration and public assistance costs.”
Just under half of former foster youth and crossover youth enrolled in community college but only about two percent received an Associate Degree. There was a strong association between level of educational attainment and higher likelihood of employment and earnings as well as lower levels of public service usage, jail stays and public cash assistance, Dr. Culhane points out.
Crossover youth were more likely than foster youth with no juvenile justice involvement to experience serious challenges including serious mental health illnesses – more than double the rates of those who were in foster care.
Hilton and Dr. Culhane expressed appreciation to Los Angeles County and the State of California for opening their files that provided the data for the study.
The Conrad N. Hilton Foundation was created in 1944 by international business pioneer Conrad N. Hilton, who founded Hilton Hotels and left his fortune to help the world’s disadvantaged and vulnerable people. The Foundation currently conducts strategic initiatives in five priority areas: providing safe water, ending chronic homelessness, preventing substance abuse, caring for vulnerable children, and extending Conrad Hilton’s support for the work of Catholic Sisters. Following selection by an independent international jury, the Foundation annually awards the $1.5 million Conrad N. Hilton Humanitarian Prize to a nonprofit organization doing extraordinary work to reduce human suffering. From its inception, the Foundation has awarded nearly $940 million in grants, distributing more than $100 million in 2010. The Foundation’s current assets are approximately $2 billion. For more information, please visit www.hiltonfoundation.org.