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Brief Finds That Extended Foster Care Increases Educational Success

The Chapin Hall Center for Children at the University of Chicago recently released a brief highlighting factors that lead to high school completion and college enrollment for foster youth.

“Each month in extended foster care past age 18, increased the expected odds of completing high school by about 8 percent,” the Chapin Hall brief said.

Memo from CalYOUTH: Predictors of high school completion and college entry at ages 19/20 uses data from a more extensive research study spurred by the implementation of a 2012 California law extending foster care to age 21. The ongoing California Youth Transitions to Adulthood Study (CalYOUTH) charters the experiences of 727 foster youth by interviewing the cohort at ages 17, 19 and 21.

Predictors for high school completion included social support and school encouragement, maltreatment history, and youth’s academic history and achievement. These predictors were assessed during interviews.

The study found that about 90 percent of participants had not earned a high school credential by the baseline interview, at age 17. By the next stage of interviews, when participants turned 19, 67 percent had a high school diploma or another credential.

A youth’s academic history and achievement had significant influence on the likelihood of a youth graduating. Findings reflected that half of participants were reading below high school level, more than a third had repeated a course, and more than half of respondents were earning mostly C’s.

Findings further suggested that foster youth with alcohol or substance use problems and foster youth who had experienced sexual abuse prior to entering care, may be at a heightened risk of not completing high school, according to the brief.

The authors noted that their findings underscore the importance of identifying and addressing these problems.

Aspects of youth’s academic history and achievement were also related to the likelihood of youth entering college. Foster youth who had high proficiency levels and had not repeated a grade were more likely to go to college.

According to the report, 55 percent of participants entered college. Of these participants, 85 percent had enrolled in a two-year college.

Authors suggest that child welfare agencies can use administrative data to identify colleges foster youth commonly attend and concentrate resources there. Agencies can further redirect resources to help foster youth meet academic college demands.

Consistent with previous research, the brief found that youth who remained in care past 18 were significantly more likely to finish high school and go to college. Analyses of this finding suggest that extended care is related to other outcomes such as increasing a youth’s economic well-being and reducing a youth’s chances of experiencing homelessness or incarceration.

Some factors expected to predict high school completion and college entry – such as high school mobility and externalizing behavioral problems – were not found to be related to these outcomes in the study.

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