Experiences and Needs of Homeless Youth with a History of Foster Care

Youth exiting the foster care system through emancipation are at an increased risk for homelessness and adverse social, health, and financial outcomes. However, because youth exiting foster care are difficult to locate once homeless, few studies have examined their needs and experiences on the streets. Quantitative interviews were conducted in a large multi-site pilot study of youth (N=601) seeking homeless services in Denver (n= 201), Austin (n= 200) and Los Angeles (n= 200). Over one-third of the sample (n= 221) included youth who reported a history of foster care involvement. The study aimed to 1) describe youth with a history of foster care in terms of their homeless contexts (primary living situations, time homeless, peer substance use, transience, and victimization) and areas of need (education, income generation, mental health, and substance use); 2) determine how homeless youth with foster care history differ from their non-foster care homeless counterparts; and 3) identify factors associated with longer duration of homelessness among youth with a history of foster care. Findings suggest youth with a history of foster care were generally living in precarious situations, characterized as dangerous and unstable, and they had significant needs in regards to education, income generation, mental health, and substance use treatment. Although few differences were observed between youth who reported a history of foster care and those who did not, foster youth reported greater childhood maltreatment and longer duration of homelessness. Foster care youth who reported greater transience and childhood physical neglect, as well as those who were living with relatives, friends, foster parents, or in facilities in the 6 months preceding the interview reported a longer duration of homelessness. Implications are discussed for child welfare and homeless youth service organizations regarding the unique needs of foster care youth who become homeless.

Publication Date: 
In press
Journal Name: 
Children and Youth Services Review
Los Angeles, CA; Denver, CO; and Austin, TX, USA