For the first time in Wisconsin, foster care and homelessness data from different state agencies were matched. Students in the spring 2014 Workshop in Public Affairs taught by professor Donald Moynihan examined the data and prepared a report for the Wisconsin Department of Children and Families. They presented the report in May to DCF secretary Eloise Anderson and other senior staff from DCF and the Department of Administration.
Of 14,534 former foster youth placed in a foster care setting between 2005 and 2011, 4.3 percent experienced homelessness. Of those who aged out of the foster care system, the rate of homelessness is 6.5 percent.
“The data allow us to understand factors within the foster care system associated with the risk of homelessness,” says Sarah Foster, one of the authors. “We find that black foster youth are more likely to experience homelessness than other races, and that being female is significantly correlated with the risk of becoming homeless.”
The results also show that individuals who are able to remain connected with parents or a relative while in and out of the foster care system tend to transition more successfully to life outside of the foster care system, notes Foster, who wrote the report with Beauregard Blazavier, Brett Halverson, Ellen Hildebrand, John Magnino, and Caroline McCormack. “Those who reunified with their families or were placed with a relative were less likely to experience homelessness. Individuals whose final discharge was into an adoptive home or guardianship were less likely to become homeless, compared to those who age out or experience other types of discharge from the foster care system.”
The authors reviewed programs in other states that help youth plan their transition out of foster care, with a focus on permanent connects, housing, job training and employment, and education. “The most promising programs we identified partnered with other institutions, such as housing authorities, school districts, and community colleges,” Foster says. “For example, housing authorities in Connecticut, Illinois, Maryland, and Arkansas worked with child welfare agencies to prioritize former foster care youth as the recipients of Section 8 housing vouchers. Other programs emphasized the importance of training front line staff in transition planning.”
The students recommended that the Wisconsin Department of Children and Families prioritize funding for transition planning programs that facilitate permanent connections with people and better housing opportunities. They also urge the department to conduct data-driven research on job training and education programs to improve outcomes for foster care youth.