This exploratory research was undertaken to review outcomes for youth who have transitioned or “aged-out” of the child protection system in Ontario.
The purpose is to better understand the lasting impact of growing up in the child protection system. The analysis sought to synthesize data from selected academic and “gray literature” (media stories or articles written by professionals in the field) and supplement it with information obtained from 17 informal interviews with staff at Ontario stakeholder organizations serving youth in care. The data overwhelmingly show compromised life outcomes for youth who age-out of care compared to peers who were not involved in care. Typical outcomes for youth who age out of care include: low academic achievement; unemployment or underemployment; homelessness and housing insecurity; criminal justice system involvement; early parenthood; poor physical and mental health; and loneliness.
These outcomes persist across decades, countries, varied policy approaches and the research methodology used in the studies. It is tempting to suggest that traumatic backgrounds and personal characteristics of youth are the “cause” of these poor outcomes; however, the findings from this study suggest structural factors and professional practices inherent in the child protection system may contribute significantly to poor outcomes for youth aging-out of care. Both policies and systemic practices must be examined so they are more informed and able to meet the needs of young people leaving care. As such, it is recommended that a longitudinal study of youth outcomes after aging-out of Ontario’s systems of care be undertaken to improve institutional responses.
Future research should: ask Ontario youth about their experiences with aging-out; explore differences between sub-groups of youth after leaving care; and undertake to identify key structural and service barriers inherent to the present system that compromise youth outcomes. An evidence-based child protection system focused on youth outcomes is essential for effective intervention in the lives of vulnerable children and families.