The 1999 John H. Chafee Foster Care Independence Act expanded a federal funding stream for independent living/transition services for older youth (ages 14+) in and transitioning from foster care. As a result, there has been a proliferation of programs that target youth who are likely to age out of foster care with the intention of improving their emerging adulthood outcomes. These programs aim to improve wellbeing outcomes related to education, employment, housing, health/mental health, and relationships. Using a scoping review framework, we sought to take stock of the state of the science of the programs and interventions (PIs) currently available for young people who age out of foster care. We offer research recommendations regarding how the field can move forward with promoting improved wellbeing of young people in care as they transition to adulthood. We assess to what extent both services for young people aging out of care and related research has included vulnerable populations, including pregnant/parenting youth, LGBTQ+ youth, youth of color, youth with disabilities, and crossover youth.
Using the National Governors Association’s Center for Best Practices (2010) as a guide, we searched the research and gray literatures for PIs that target education, employment, housing, health/mental health, and relationships. Then, we searched the research and gray literatures for evidence of effectiveness in the form of peer-reviewed scientific articles and evaluation reports. Next, based on the California Evidence-Based Clearinghouse (CEBC) for Child Welfare’s Scientific Rating Scale, we assigned each PI a rating (1= Well-Supported by Research Evidence, 2 = Supported by Research Evidence, 3 = Promising Research Evidence, 4 = Failure to Demonstrate Effect, and 5 = Concerning Practice).
Of the 79 PIs we found, 10 (13%) yielded a rating from 1 to 5. The best rating in any of the five practice areas was a 2 (“Supported by Research Evidence”), which applied to four programs. The area with the most rated programs was relationships, with four programs receiving a rating. The area with the least PIs was health/mental health care, with only a single program receiving a rating. Regarding vulnerable populations, 64 programs targeted at least one of the vulnerable populations of interest; 10 (16%) were rated with the CEBC Scale.
When the Foster Care Independence Act was passed, there was a dearth of PIs that targeted the wellbeing of older youth in foster care who were likely to age out. In the last 20 years, we have done an excellent job developing PIs. Given the results of this scoping review, we must now build the evidence for the PIs that already exist. This process entails ensuring agencies are equipped with the capacities to implement PIs to fidelity and that procedures are in place to examine the effectiveness for the many PIs that are already being delivered to marginalized young people who age out of care. Special attention should also be devoted to testing the efficacy and effectiveness of existing PIs for vulnerable populations, as their experiences have not been adequately illuminated by previous research.