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By Selena Stevens

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"At age 18, many foster youth are on their own.  Most of us get some type of help well into our 20s, often financial and often help with housing, jobs and so on.  These children do not have that."

-- Andrew Grogan-Kaylor

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July 26, 2000 – (Lexington, Ky.) – A recent study from a University of Kentucky researcher shows that children aging out of foster care have a high incidence of homelessness, sexual and physical abuse and poor job performance. The study's findings were cited by the Children's Defense Fund as a factor the new Foster Care Independent Living Act, signed into law by President Clinton in December 1999.

"At age 18, many foster youth are on their own," said Andrew Grogan-Kaylor, a UK social work assistant professor and co-investigator of the study, the findings of which will be published in the fall issue of the social work journal Child Welfare. "Most of us get some kind of help well into our 20s, often financial and often help with housing, jobs and so on," he said. "These children often do not have that."

The study, performed in Wisconsin, showed that by 12 to 18 months after youth turned 18 and were discharged from foster care, 37 percent had not finished high school, only 9 percent were in college, 12 percent had been homeless, 32 percent had received public assistance, 44 percent had problems acquiring medical care "most or all of the time," more than 25 percent of the men and 15 percent of the women had been imprisoned and 37 percent had experienced a serious problem such as being physically victimized, sexually assaulted, raped, incarcerated or being homeless at least once since discharge. While 81 percent of the participants had held at least one job, only 61 percent were employed at the time of the study. Those employed had average weekly wages ranging from $54 to $613, with women and African-Americans earning less on average.

In a system that adds nearly 1 million cases a year, roughly 20,000 children leave the foster care system each year when they turn 18. Many do not have families or relatives to rely on for housing or financial and social support.

"You'd be hard pressed to find another group of people who do so poorly, even among the groups of people with whom social workers deal," Grogan-Kaylor said.

Following the youth was a difficult task, Grogan-Kaylor said. The youth were first interviewed approximately a year before they exited foster care. Using every source available to them, the researchers were still unable to locate 20 percent of the original youth for a follow-up interview 12 to 18 months later.

"It seems possible to us that those youth we didn't find are doing worse than the ones we did find," he said. "It suggests they could be in bad situations."

Although youth near the aging-out point are giving some training in employment and life skills, Grogan-Kaylor said his research has led him to believe that the youth were more likely to have succeeded if they had concrete, physical help in these areas. Instead of classes and talks, what they need are models to follow and things such as trips to employment agencies and help with apartment deposits. Of those who were doing well, many indicated their foster families had remained active in their lives past the official termination of their care.

"There are a lot of unsung heroes out there," Grogan-Kaylor said. "They take care of these kids beyond the stretch."

The next phase of the study will look at where the youth are three years out of the foster care system. It will collect information on employment to housing to mental health to family status. It also will begin to look at the those youth who are succeeding and what went right for them.

Grogan-Kaylor said he hopes to replicate this study in Kentucky to look at the state's unique populations.

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