Young adults who fare relatively well after spending time in the child welfare system say steady support from caring grown-ups made a big difference

Offering a teen in need a safe place to stay can make a difference in the long term. <a href="" rel="nofollow noopener" target="_blank" data-ylk="slk:Justin Lambert/DigitalVision via GettyImages;elm:context_link;itc:0;sec:content-canvas" class="link ">Justin Lambert/DigitalVision via GettyImages</a>

Young people who have exited foster care generally fare better – in work, school and relationships – if they get consistent support from adults who care about them during their teen years.

My research team reached these findings by interviewing 21 people, now in their late 20s, who had aged out of foster care when they turned 18, had spent time in foster care as children or grew up in families that had active child welfare cases.

These young adults relayed the degree to which they received support from their relatives, friends, foster parents, social workers, mentors, teachers and coaches. They described help coming in many forms – safe places to stay, someone to listen to them vent or open doors, or just making them feel cared for in any way.

All of the people we interviewed were doing relatively well in life by the age of 18, in that they didn’t have significant mental health or substance use problems. We wanted to understand what factors contributed to their success.

“My grandmother was the key thing that helped me be successful in life to this day,” said one of the people we interviewed. “She’s given me, I guess, routine. … That’s what’s helped me to this day.”

“I feel like teachers were really good at being understanding and open-minded toward, like, kids with different backgrounds,” another explained, “like kids who were raised in, like, rough environments or weren’t raised by their parents, or didn’t have certain resources other kids did.”

Why it matters

Every year, roughly 600,000 children spend some time in foster care, and about 23,000 of them age out of the system once they reach their 18th birthday.

Young adults leaving foster care are making two transitions. Like everyone else their age, they’re turning into adults. But unlike most of their peers, they also have to start living on their own.

They are more likely to experience poverty, unemployment, homelessness and incarceration than other Americans their age.

Unlike young adults who have stable relationships with their parents or other guardians, young adults aging out of foster care often have to try to figure out basic skills on their own, like how to open a bank account, create a resume, apply for jobs or navigate financial aid forms for college. People leaving foster care are also less likely to graduate from high school.

What’s next

My team wants to know more about what kinds of services make the biggest difference in helping young people transition out of foster care. For an upcoming study, we surveyed a larger group of young adults, as well as the staff members of programs serving this community.

The Research Brief is a short take about interesting academic work.

This article is republished from The Conversation, a nonprofit, independent news organization bringing you facts and trustworthy analysis to help you make sense of our complex world. It was written by: Julie Cederbaum, University of Southern California

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Julie Cederbaum received funding for this work from the University of Southern California Clinical Translational Science Institute (SC CTSI; UL1TR001855).