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Open Access Publications from the University of California

Independent Living Service Programs for Foster Youth: How Individual Factors and Program Features Affect Participation and Outcomes

  • Author(s): Sommer, Heidi
  • Advisor(s): Mauldon, Jane
  • et al.

This dissertation examines factors that impact the provision of services and resources for youth during their transition from foster care into adulthood, specifically the support provided through federally funded Independent Living Skills Programs (ILSPs). The population targeted by these programs numbers fewer than 400,000 current and former foster youth between the ages of 16 and 21 at any given time. The review of the ILSP evaluation literature presented here shows little evidence to suggest that ILSPs, as they have operated over the past two decades, have had a positive impact on the young adult outcomes of former foster youth.

A quantitative analysis of ILSP graduation data from one California county is used to examine how need and program access affect ILSP participation, factors not previously addressed in the literature. This case study provides evidence that youth are more likely to graduate from ILSP if they had a higher level of need for transitional supports and greater physical access to an ILSP site. Youth more likely to be referred to ILSP - either because of the nature of their care setting or because they were placed within their county of origin - are also more likely to graduate from the program.

A qualitative examination of CC25, an initiative to improve the supports available to transition-age foster youth, indicates that counties implementing strategies that more effectively engage youth and caregivers in transitional planning and support program delivery, have the potential to increase the reach and relevance of ILSP services. In addition, increased community partnership and investment can create a more comprehensive array of support programming greatly needed by transitioning youth. These findings were consistent with data on transitional outcomes reported by the initiative which showed increased participation of youth in support services, greater satisfaction with the support received and some positive impact on permanency, financial literacy, housing, and education.

The findings of this research have direct implications for the provision of ILSP services at the local level and can be used by child welfare agencies to better target eligible youth, increase the participation of youth in ILSP and develop ILSP services that more effectively address the needs of foster youth. Promising strategies include greater outreach to kinship and guardian caregivers, increased inter-agency collaboration and outreach to better engage out-of-county youth in ILSP, improved incentives to participate for youth who live further from ILSP sites, and better assessment of transition-age foster care youth to better measure their need for support.

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