It’s Time to Break the Connection Between Foster Care and Homelessness

Research shows that people who have spent time in the foster care system tend to become homeless at an earlier age than homeless people without foster care histories. They’re also overrepresented among the homeless youth population.1

It’s well known in the homeless assistance field that the foster care system itself is a feeder into youth homelessness, but this year it’s come to the attention of several senators who have introduced legislation to address the problem.

  • Sen. Ron Wyden (D-OR) introduced the Family Stability and Kinship Care Act of 2015, which would allow states to administer foster care funding (Title IV-E) for prevention services and increase funding for programs (Title IV-B) that fund state child welfare agencies’ work with families of youth who are at risk of becoming involved in the foster care system (and homeless youth are definitely at risk).
  • Sen. Tim Kaine (D-VA) introduced a bill that would improve the Family Unification Program (FUP), which provides housing vouchers to former foster youth and families involved in the child welfare system.2 The Family Unification, Preservation, and Modernization Act would extend the time limit on the program’s housing vouchers from 18 months to 36. It would also expand eligibility for the program by changing the ages a recipient must have lived in foster care to 14 and up (from 16 and up).

The reasons why foster care youth become homeless are complex, but many foster youth aging out of the system lack a source of income, access to housing, or healthy and reliable social supports (like family members).

In Chapin Hall’s important Midwest Study, which found that more than 30 percent of youth who had aged out of foster care had experienced at least one episode of homelessness by the time they were 23 or 24, researchers identified several risk factors. They found that former foster care youth who became homelessness were more likely to have:

  • Run away from care.
  • Had multiple placements while in care.

A more recent study by researchers from the Washington State Department of Social and Health Services found many of the same risk factors among youth who have aged out of foster care in that state.

If you’re interested in learning more about the intimate connection between the foster care system and homelessness, check out this resource, which was written by Phyllis Wolfe and our own President and CEO Nan Roman almost 10 years ago and remains relevant to this day.

There is still much work to be done to stop the foster care feeder into youth homelessness and to improve the child welfare system so that the links between it and homelessness are permanently broken, but these important bills are a great start.

You can find co-sponsors of the Family Stability and Kinship Care Act here and co-sponsors of The Family Unification, Preservation, and Modernization Act here. Please take a moment to contact your Senators today to ask them to co-sponsor the bills if they are not yet listed or thank them for already taking that step if they are! (And let Jaime Colman from our advocacy team know that you did!)

1 More than half of the homeless youth surveyed in 11 cities for a 2014 study by the Department of Health and Human Services had previously stayed in a foster or group home.

2 A 2014 monograph from HUD describes how Family Unification Program is currently being used (or, rather, underutilized) for youth. And you can learn more about a program that is already doing great work with youth FUP, Mile High United Way’s Bridging the Gap, from a presentation they gave at our last National Conference on Ending Familiy and Youth Homelessness. They’ll be able to do an even better job for former foster youth in Colorado with the changes proposed to FUP in these bills.