Child welfare systems do not collect post-secondary completion data for former foster youth. Despite the Chafee Program’s intent to prepare transitioning youth for self-sufficiency, states’ passage of extended foster care, and college tuition waivers, we are not collecting data that will tell us if youth exiting care have the ability to be self-sufficient when independent living services end at age 21 or 23.
Child welfare systems do collect what I would term as “activity or output data” for the National Youth in Transition (NYTD) database. Unfortunately, the limited data collected though NYTD is not reported to states in real time to help improve service delivery. While child welfare is a heavily monitored, data-driven system, we still find ourselves in a data desert in independent living, 20 years after the passage of the Foster Care Independence Act.
So why do you hear people say, “only 3% of former foster youth graduate from college?” That data comes from the 2011 Chapin Hall Midwest Evaluation of the Adult Functioning of Former Foster Youth from a sample of young people from Iowa, Wisconsin, and Illinois. Chapin Hall’s more recent research The California Youth Transitions to Adulthood Study (CalYOUTH) 2021 found that nearly 10% had attained a 2- or 4-year college degree by age 23.
Beyond the lack of outcome data, I struggle with how we frame the limited results that we have. For a young person who has suffered abuse and neglect in their childhood, along with housing and school instability in foster care, and then leaves the system without permanency or supportive adult connection, their ability to pursue and graduate from college is nothing short of a miracle!!!
Instead of saying “only 3% of former foster youth graduate from college,” let’s reframe the narrative to celebrate all young people with lived experience who reach their academic goals and persist in climbing the steep hill to self-sufficiency.
Now, could we improve educational and other self-sufficiency outcomes through data-driven service delivery? Well of course. We need to advocate to end the data desert for transitioning youth in our states and across the country.
Dr. Elizabeth Wynter is a rainmaker for transition age foster youth. Wynter’s work in this arena has helped launch a statewide youth voice movement, drive policy and practice improvements, and better equip system professionals and foster youth with tools and knowledge to achieve self-sufficiency.
Wynter believes that foster youth should be valued as organization assets. By using a pluralistic approach in which youth and systems professionals share control in decision making, program planning and implementation, and advocacy, a dual impact of improved outcomes for transitioning youth and a more responsive child welfare system can be realized.
As the Executive Director of the Selfless Love Foundation, Wynter has led the state of Florida in making youth engagement a centerpiece of conversation. With more than two decades of child welfare experience, an unwavering commitment to transform the system, and an ineffable capacity to challenge the status quo, Wynter is a catalyst for change.
Selfless Love Foundation’s youth voice initiative, One Voice IMPAACT (OVI), provides current and former foster youth opportunities to develop skills for leadership and life, advocate for changes to policy and join a network of youth leaders across the state of Florida.
Join Selfless Love Foundation and Dr. Wynter this October for “Foster Youth Voice Month” and help shift the perspective of how foster youth are viewed by the public and within the child welfare system. Click here to sign up your agency.